Investors are pouring money into digital health companies, with $5.8 billion invested in 2015 alone, according to CBInsights. Of the several subcategories of digital health, telehealth continues to gain momentum with patients and physicians.
The term telehealth has been circulating the industry for years, but as healthcare becomes more digitized, it is now at the forefront. Therefore, it is important to understand the different types of telehealth and how each can benefit patient care.
According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, telehealth encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services. It is not a specific service, but a collection of tools to enhance care and education delivery.
Consumers are rapidly embracing the telehealth trend, especially live video services, which help combat busy schedules and the desire to avoid physical visits to a doctor’s office. In fact, as many as 15 million people used telehealth services in 2015, up 50% from 2013, according to the American Telemedicine Association.
While there are multiple types of telehealth services, most fall in four basic categories.
This is what most people think of when they hear telehealth. It is a live, two-way, video-based interaction between patients and providers, or between two providers. This technology allows physicians to interact and visually consult, diagnose, and suggest treatments in real time.
Physicians can sign up to be available through service providers and deliver consultations via the web or a mobile app. Insurance companies are paying for these “televisits” because they are more cost effective than face-to-face visits. Physicians’ reimbursement rates are often lower, but they can see more patients, allowing them to use previously unproductive time between physical visits.
- Store and Forward
Also known as asynchronous, this is the transmitting of medical information, such as images, videos, or scans, through a secure patient portal that can be viewed by providers at a later time. With these tools, physicians can consult with each other to develop recommendations for patients, even when they are not in the same location, since the data can be viewed virtually. These tools are currently used most widely in radiology, as the findings can be rendered, analyzed, and delivered online.
- Remote Monitoring
Remote monitoring includes technology that collects a patient’s vital signs and other health data and transmits them to a physician in a remote location. This technology allows patients to send information to their physician, who can monitor progress or potential symptoms. Adoption of remote monitoring is expected to increase as companies develop new, innovative apps and tools to track personal health information.
- Mobile Health
Also called mHealth, this category encompasses any healthcare practice or education materials that are supported and delivered via a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. While this technology has many applications, mHealth is most commonly used for physicians to communicate with patients outside of the office via an app or online portal.
Additionally, there is a reimbursement program for physicians who have proactive contact with patients with chronic conditions. Therefore, physicians are beginning to take a more active role in mHealth by contacting patients to monitor medication adherence and check vitals to prevent potential hospital readmissions, which helps reduce total costs and improves patient outcomes.
With the potential technologies available to improve a patient’s experience and overall care, it is easy to understand why the expected telehealth revenue is predicted to increase by nearly 40% per year through 2020 to $3.5 billion, according to IBISWorld.
Regardless of how each provider implements telehealth into their practice, healthcare professionals should keep the following tips in mind when considering telehealth solutions:
- Ensure the office has video-capable computers and online network systems that can receive and deliver telehealth information.
- Assess the office network bandwidth, which should be large enough to handle multiple calls and videos simultaneously.
- Review the software options available that can be installed on existing hardware to reduce installation costs.
- Ensure the office Wi-Fi and network systems are secure so patient data delivered via telehealth remains safe from cyber threats.
- Make the training process as simple as possible to avoid physician frustration and allow quicker adoption.
- Market to consumers and explain the added benefits they will receive by utilizing the technology.
- Understand there will be a learning curve for both physicians and patients, and plan accordingly to work through the challenges in the beginning.
- Explore what technologies work best for your practice and focus on those since it can be unrealistic to try to adopt every telehealth tool available.
- Understand the proper billing and coding implications for each telehealth patient interaction to ensure the practice remains compliant.
- Telehealth is not always the best form of care for all patients. Therefore, each practice should review potential candidates on a case-by-case basis.
The potential benefits of telehealth are significant for providers, as well as patients. Telehealth is gaining ground in the healthcare marketplace and helping to shape the industry as a leading digital health innovation. Physicians who implement some of the technologies will be able to connect more with their patients, which can lead to providing better outcomes and delivering care quicker in this digitally enhanced world.