What Is Telehealth?
Picture this: It's New Year's Day, and you feel rotten. You need medical attention, but your doctor's office is closed. So you reach for your smartphone to get the care and the prescription you need from a qualified medical professional through a phone call, instant messaging, or a healthcare app — all from the comfort of your home. This instance is but a glimpse into the rapidly expanding world of telehealth.
The United States Government Health Resources and Services Administration defines telehealth as "the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration." The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) define it as "a two-way, real-time interactive communication between a patient and a physician or practitioner at a distant site through telecommunications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio and visual equipment."
What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury, as well as remote clinical services. Telehealth encompasses telemedicine. It also includes non-clinical services including health education to consumers, continuing medical education to providers, administrative meetings and provider training. Consumer health education telehealth options may include classes, online discussion forums, and patient portals with video and text content.
What Technologies Assist Telehealth?
Technologies that include live (synchronous) videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward (asynchronous) imaging, streaming media, remote patient monitoring, mobile health and terrestrial and wireless communications enable this remote form of care and dissemination of information. One of the most impressive technologies is remote patient monitoring and transmission of patient health information to healthcare providers through internet-based devices. For example, today's pacemakers relay information about the patient's heart condition to doctors.
Because telehealth uses these technologies, its reach isn't limited by the same physical constraints hospitals and medical practices contend with; telehealth can be to healthcare what Amazon is to shopping. As such, it offers widespread accessibility, affordability, and a range of needed services for patients who might not otherwise get it.
Telehealth Is Cost-Effective
Another benefit to telehealth from a consumer's perspective is that it can reduce unnecessary and expensive emergency room and doctor visits, which contribute to the skyrocketing costs of medical care. Conversely, for providers, telehealth presents a viable solution for attending to the needs of more patients, and doing so in a cost-effective manner.
Several promising studies have been conducted which demonstrate positive outcomes of telehealth services for patients who have had a stroke, cardiovascular disease and psychiatric issues, as well as many other health issues. What the healthcare community learns from these studies also serves to refine current telehealth programs in their nascent phase of development.
What Does the Present and Future of Telehealth Look Like in Texas?
The global telemedicine market is expected to reach $113.1 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc. Growing rates of chronic health issues including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as a long list of non-life threatening conditions warrant new healthcare solutions for monitoring and treating these conditions. In addition, the large and aging Baby Boomer population is driving demand for new forms of geriatric care. Many aging patients want more convenient solutions that would allow them to explore more new forms of care and to get medical attention at home.
In 2017, the Texas Medical Board adopted a broad set of telehealth and telemedicine rules and regulations to finally enable this solution to take root in the formerly-resistant Lone Star State. These new rules have been endorsed by the Texas e-Health Alliance, Texas Academy of Physician Assistants and the Texas Hospital Association. These rules and regulations enable Texas healthcare practitioners to establish doctor-patient relationships via telehealth technologies, whereas they had been limited to in-person initial meetings in the past. The rules also set parameters for issuing prescriptions via telehealth technologies, but set limitations on pain management prescriptions which can lead to opioid abuse.
The rules may yet be revised, as several groups including the Texas Medical Association, Texas Nurses Association and the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) have argued that the rules are too vague and may deter practitioners from adopting telehealth solutions.
When the political dust settles, the potential for telehealth to provide affordable solutions for patients with mental health issues is perhaps even more promising than for physical health issues. The stigma of mental health conditions often leads people to avoid the imagined embarrassment of in-person treatment, but telehealth could remove that barrier. It could also lower the costs of mental health services. In light of the public outcry for solutions to mental health issues that may have been partially responsible for the recent mass shootings, telehealth presents a way to address an American crisis.
Telehealth and Your Career
As the use of telehealth grows, so will career opportunities for administrators in this field. One of the most exciting aspects of this burgeoning field is the ability for professionals to work from anywhere — for employers and patients located anywhere. There are career opportunities exclusively in telehealth care and options for traditional healthcare providers to augment their services with telehealth components.
If you are interested in learning more about telehealth and developing a network within this segment of the healthcare industry, there are two professional organizations dedicated to telehealth and telemedicine that you can connect with:
The American Telemedicine Association welcomes medical professionals, from administrators to practitioners, interested in improving the quality, equity and affordability of healthcare. By joining this organization, you will be able to network with industry leaders, access the latest research, view educational content, and participate in advocacy events on Capitol Hill.
The International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth has close ties to the World Health Organization and promotes and supports the advancement of telehealth services worldwide. This organization hosts networking events and conferences, and offers a number of educational tools to support professional development and exploration of careers in telehealth.
There is little doubt that telehealth will become a central component of healthcare in the United States and worldwide. As a student in the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) online MBA program with a Concentration in Healthcare Administration, you will gain plenty of exposure to telehealth advancements and career options for healthcare administrators.
Sources:American Telemedicine Association
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