The United States has officially been part of the global pandemic for six months, which has necessitated sheltering at home for as much of the population as possible. This means only going out for essentials, not having parties and gatherings, and avoiding unnecessary trips to places that are hotspots, like physician offices and hospitals. Unfortunately, at some point, people just need to go to the doctor, and to do so as safely as possible many physicians and hospitals have been using telehealth technology so that patients can be seen in the comfort of their own homes.
Telehealth Versus Telemedicine
These terms are often used interchangeably but they encompass slightly different services. Telehealth includes telemedicine but it also includes several other services such as remote patient education, remote consults between physicians, remote monitoring of patient diagnostic equipment, and so on. Telemedicine is the act of remotely visiting a healthcare provider, whether that be at a local telemedicine center to consult a physician who is far away or through a telemedicine app from your home, as is most common during the pandemic.
Telehealth Is Rapidly Gaining Popularity
In March 2020 just at the beginning of social distancing in the pandemic, the Cleveland Clinic logged 18 times their monthly average of telemedicine visits at 60,000. These visits provided a critical lifeline to people who were often already in a high-risk category and who couldn’t risk being exposed to the virus at a regular office visit.
But even outside of the pandemic telemedicine has been gaining popularity over the last several years. People have figured out that technology can be used to reach folks who live in rural and remote areas who don’t typically have access to medical care, particularly specialists. This technology can also be used to help people with mobility issues, transportation problems, and other issues that affect their ability to make it to an in-person appointment at a scheduled time.
Video conferencing is still the most popular form of telehealth, followed by data monitoring and then smartphone apps. During the pandemic, HIPAA rules have been relaxed to make it possible for patients to contact their physicians through any messaging app they are comfortable with. Once the pandemic passes, these restrictions will be put back into place and people will only be able to use telehealth services through HIPAA compliant apps and equipment.
Some Providers Have Concerns
As with any new technology, there are concerns about potential problems. When telehealth is done through non-HIPAA compliant apps and equipment, there is a serious risk of privacy violations. Only two in 10 doctors want to implement telemedicine capabilities, but a third of them have concerns about how to keep data safe. In addition to data security concerns, 36% of physicians are concerned about an increase in medical errors as this technology becomes more widespread. There’s just no substitute for an in-person assessment, at least not yet.
Telehealth technology is here to stay. Learn more about the differences between telehealth and telemedicine and how these technologies are being used from the infographic below.
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