Digital Salutem
12 April 2022

TeleHealth: Definition, Benefits and Challengues

By João Bocas
telehealth what is telehealth

TeleHealth covers any kind of healthcare service which uses electronic communications in order to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs

Telehealth is, however, an umbrella term used by many different organizations and institutions to refer to any type of electronic health care that includes communication via electronic media with patients and their health care providers, as well as patient self-management through mobile devices (e.g., mobile phones, tablet computers, etc.).

It also includes rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) and non-invasive blood tests such as blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors and many others. Most physicians will not consider these diagnostic tools as part of medical practice; however, it is quite common for some hospitals or clinics to use them in conjunction with standard medical services.

What is TeleHealth?

Telehealth is the use of telecommunication technology to transform the health care process. It can be categorized as both a technology and a solution.

The first one is technology-based, where the “tele” part refers to the user’s endpoints (usually mobile phones or tablets) and “healthcare” refers to a process (usually hospitalization, nursing care etc.).

The second one is solution-based, where the “tele” part refers to the medical care solution itself while the healthcare part refers to how it is implemented (i.e. can be done by remote medical staff).

In healthcare, TeleHealth comes in two major forms: tele-rehabilitation and tele-medical. Telerehabilitation is designed for rehabilitation of patients with chronic diseases such as stroke or heart disease; it uses telemedicine (a technology that allows communication between remote medical staff and patients) and videoconferencing. Telemedical uses telepresence (i.e., using digital ordinate tools that allow people to see each other from wherever they are located) for clinical consultations because it provides an opportunity for patients to be involved in their own health care.

TeleHealth covers any kind of healthcare service which uses electronic communications in order to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. Telehealth has high potential for impact on healthcare globally, especially when all components are considered, from start-up phase through implementation phase all the way through service delivery phase, but one of its biggest challenges for implementation is balancing technological needs with human needs when delivering services electronically over telecommunications networks.

The goal of this post is to explore some key issues related to implementing TeleHealth more effectively, both within your organization and across organizations; we will also highlight some successful companies in this space so you can get inspiration where you may not have it elsewhere (or at least better understand what works well with your team).

The purpose of this post is to outline a process for implementing TeleHealth and how it can be used to improve the quality of care throughout the healthcare system. As an example, let’s say you are an EHR vendor (provider of Electronic Health Records) and your product is used by over 10% of all healthcare providers in the US. Your goal is to achieve a 95% telehealth adoption rate. The process for achieving this goal is very similar for almost every other healthcare system; here are the steps:

  1. Create a TeleHealth plan
  2. Design a solution that will work for your customers
  3. Execute on plan
  4. Sell IT
  5. Support

Why TeleHealth?

There are too many main reasons why TeleHealth might be a useful tool for healthcare systems:

  • Collaboration between physicians/clinicians and technology vendors because the respective knowledges are complementary rather than redundant
  • Reduced costs because TeleHealth can reduce costs associated with physical visits because patients can be seen much more frequently
  • Increased patient satisfaction because they would be able to consult with healthcare professionals directly who could take care of them without having to travel far away
  • Reduced inconvenience because patients would not have to travel far distance
  • Quality assurance due to higher level of security
  • Greater scalability because TeleHealth systems can handle more clients than traditional facilities providing better quality service
  • Improved efficiency due to reduced time spent at clinical sites
  • Improved quality due increased clinical capability
  • Increased revenue due increased clinical capabilities
  • Reduction in cost of insurance reimbursement

Challenges in TeleHealth Implementation

The healthcare industry is in a state of transition and transformation. As a result, many new approaches will have to be developed and everyday processes will have to be adapted. At the same time, the needs of our patients’ and their families will change as more information is available to them.

Telehealth is one very promising way to meet these challenges. It allows us to give access to medical information over the phone, which enables us to provide our patients with information about their diagnosis, treatment options and other important details.

There has been a lot of talk about how Telehealth could help reduce costs in this sector, but not much has really been done on how it can work, or what its true benefits are, while at the same time satisfying both patients and healthcare providers by providing valuable health-related information without disrupting workflow or requiring additional resources.

Over the last few years there has been a significant increase in Telehealth adoption among healthcare providers globally. However, there are still limits when it comes to implementation:

  • In some countries like Australia and Canada, telehealth technology is used just for patient-to-physician communication
  • Telehealth technology does not provide any additional health care services (e.g., for diagnosing diseases)
  • Telehealth systems do not replace traditional medical records
  • Most telemedicine systems connect with patient’s PCs in order to offer interactive tools that can be accessed from anywhere
  • There is no standardized platform that enables interoperability between Telehealth systems from different vendors

It was only recently that we discovered this huge gap between what we know about Telehealth and what we need it for, which brings us back to the original question: how can we use Telehealth more effectively for our patients? And what are the challenges that currently exist in implementing it?

We are going to identify existing obstacles that users face when they are trying to implement telemedicine solutions in their hospital settings (including those who don’t want telemedicine), and secondly, explore ways of overcoming these obstacles while making sure they satisfy all parties involved (patients as well as healthcare providers). I hope my post can encourage further study into ways of improving implementation of telemedicine solutions within hospitals / clinics in order to meet today’s current needs better than before!

The main challenges always encountered in Healthcare are:

  • Technical limitations in the devices used for RDTs/non-invasive tests
  • Patient resistance or unwillingness to respond or comply when asked about RDT results
  • Lack of motivation from patients who do not believe they will benefit from such treatment
  • Limited access often due to infrastructure limitations
  • Lack of professional support by healthcare professionals (some physicians tend to be skeptical about using such technology)
  • Financial constraints

These challenges can be overcome by using TeleHealth technologies (e.g., through collaboration between doctors/clinicians and technology vendors). However, there is a need for more research regarding the benefits provided by these technologies for various patient populations.

Getting the Most out of TeleHealth

Many people assume that telehealth is just another buzzword. They assume that it’s about shiny, cool technology and nothing else matters. But it’s a very powerful concept: Telehealth is the application of telecommunication, data and information technology (e.g. video conferencing) to healthcare to enable the sharing of health-related data across organizations and patients, thereby enabling the delivery of customized care for individual patients.

It is defined as “the practice and application of technologies which enable people to communicate with each other remotely and share information at a distance through telecommunication networks or similar systems while taking into account human factors in the interactions between people and their healthcare providers”.

Of course, this definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation and interpretation should be taken into consideration when designing products or services, but here are some important aspects of Telehealth:

  • Use of telecommunication to share health-related data across organizations
  • Integration between different companies, providers (e.g. Medicare & Medicaid), research groups or other stakeholders
  • Access to health-related data by individuals from different organizations
  • Access to health-related data by individuals from different states / geographic areas
  • Access by individual doctors to their patients’ data
  • Facilitate access by patients to doctors/providers via a mobile phone etc.

Once these points are understood, we can have much more robust conversations around how we should approach TeleHealth in various contexts: medical school curriculum (which is already heavily influenced by telemedicine); public health; social insurance systems; finance management systems etc.

The above is just one example, there are many more things worth exploring when it comes to TeleHealth as an implementation strategy for ehealth!

Telehealth is the process of using telecommunication networks to deliver health care services. It is a very powerful tool, but it also comes with some challenges and some limitations.

The first challenge is that it is not always possible or convenient to use all the features of Telehealth systems. This means that, in most cases, we are forced to make trade-offs, and sometimes even compromises. For example, when we are operating a Telehealth system for a patient who needs a specific procedure but we cannot offer them all the things they would benefit from (e.g., access to a CT scanner), it makes more sense to go with an option that enables us to provide more than the patient needs (e.g., cardiac catheterization).

The second challenge is that telehealth systems can be expensive for both patients and providers (a recent survey on Telehealth suggests that there are only 3% of patients who would like to receive Telehealth services, while 92% of doctors would like these services).

The third challenge is that there are no standard protocols or specifications for Telehealth systems (to address issues like the one described above). In order to make this work better, many healthcare organizations have developed their own standards and design frameworks (such as Service Oriented Architecture or SOA), which has led some healthcare providers to innovate on their own by developing new ways of delivering services on top of existing Telehealth platforms.

There are many challenges associated with implementing telehealth: if you are using a single platform for all your patients, you need to find out where their data is stored, how long it takes to process their information and how it’s stored. Managing all this data is not easy either as it can be very large over time.

I was inspired to write this article after my conversation with Prof. Joe Kvedar, MD – Senior Advisor – MGH Center for Innovation in Digital Healthcare; Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School; Board Chair at American Telemedicine Association; Author & Thought Leader in Connected Health. In this episode, we talked about the TeleHealth Adoption Dr. Joseph Kvedar shared amazing insights on TeleHealth , Digital Healthcare Innovation, and main future predictions in #DigitalHealth. We’ve also discussed the main challenges always encountered in Healthcare. And to implement TeleHealth more effectively.

Watch Episode #53 of Digital Health & Wearables Series:

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