In a time when medical care has become increasingly expensive and complicated, leaders in the field are looking for ways to make accessing health services more affordable and convenient. Working toward the goals of affordability and convenience, one trend in the allied health field is offering medical care at a distance. The benefits of telehealth services are expanding faster than many experts could have predicted.
Telehealth is technically the delivery of any kind of health services through any kind of telecommunication technologies. If you haven’t been paying attention to the ever expanding benefits of telehealth services, you might be tempted to think of the early days of Ask a Nurse call centers. The advantages of telemedicine and other medical care from a distance, however, are wide ranging.
A telehealth service can be as simple as a weekly computer phone call to check on your blood pressure numbers and heart rate, or as complex as a robotic arm operated from across the country assisting in surgery. In both large and small examples, telehealth services are having a huge impact on healthcare in America. It is such a growing trend in healthcare that 22 states in America have laws mandating telehealth visits be reimbursed by insurers at the same rate as in-person visits.
Imagine, for example, that you are an 81 year old woman living in a small Nebraska town, 27 miles from the nearest doctor’s office. While your small community of 432 people has a 911 call tower and answering service, as well as a volunteer paramedic crew, you do not have access to a doctor without driving many miles. Telehealth services allow you to connect your pacemaker to your own telephone and access telemedicine software once a month, allowing a doctor to read information that indicates how regular your heart activity has been. If needed, of course, your doctor can call you and ask you to come in the office. When things are going well, however, office visits may only be needed every six to nine months.
In another example of the benefits of telehealth services, many patients in need of mental healthcare find a distance health environment very helpful. In fact, in a trial of online therapy, patients averaged six sessions. And, 73% of the patients who “attended” online therapy re-booked with the same clinician. During one 18 month study, a higher proportion of the telepsychiatry appointments (92%) were kept as compared to face-to-face appointments (87%).
The benefits of telehealth services also include economic savings as well. In some cases, doctors can see more patients in a day, and operate with less office staff, when they are offering telehealth services. Telemedicine trends and telemedicine research indicates that these distance health services will continue to expand. In fact, The telehealth market in the U.S. is expected to grow from $240 million in revenue in 2013, to $1.9 billion in 2018.