What is telehealth and what are its benefits?

Telehealth is, according to OrthoLive, a type of “house call without the travel,” where the doctor pays a virtual visit to a patient via the Internet utilizing secure video and audio connections. While the term is often used interchangeably with “telemedicine,” Chiron Health clarifies that telemedicine refers to remote clinical services alone, whereas telehealth is an umbrella term covering non-clinical medical services including training, education, and administration.

While a telehealth visit isn’t necessarily going to be the first choice for an initial consultation, it is being utilized more and more often for follow-up visits, particularly when those involve managing chronic conditions or medications. Telehealth is also often used to facilitate specialist consultation.

Telehealth can provide better access to care

The top advantage to telehealth for the patient is that it reduces the necessity to travel to get to the provider. There’s also less need to take time off work in most cases, since the only time commitment is for the duration of the actual appointment and these can often be scheduled during a lunch break or outside of working hours. A telehealth visit also doesn’t require the patient to spend time sitting around in the waiting room surrounded by contagious people, since ironically, one of the best places to pick up a virus if you don’t already have one may be at a doctor’s office or hospital.

Telehealth can cost you less money

Telehealth is something that often costs providers less to deliver, and these savings may in turn be passed along to the patients or should at least help to keep insurance premiums down. Telehealth platform doxy.me points out that these savings may be realized due to the fact that telehealth reduces the need to transport patients and in some cases can even keep patients out of the hospital altogether. They cite a study published in Today’s Geriatric Medicine which projects overall savings of 19 percent when telecare costs are compared with those of inpatient care.

There's increased patient involvement in telehealth

Patients who are able to consult with a doctor online at their leisure, rather than needing to deal with the stress and bother involved in making appointments, traveling to those appointments, and then being told to hurry up and wait while their overbooked providers see everybody else in the waiting room first, are, unsurprisingly, more engaged in their own care. Evisit, another telehealth provider, reports that patients who are given the option to schedule virtual visits with their healthcare providers may be more likely to make and keep regular appointments and to reach out to their providers with any questions or concerns they may have. Patients also appreciate the opportunity to have their healthcare issues addressed quickly and their treatment options presented without delay.

More engaged patients have higher levels of satisfaction and even show improved outcomes. The American Journal of Managed Care (via doxy.me) provided the following statistics regarding patients receiving telehealth services: they had 38 percent fewer hospital admissions, 31 percent fewer re-admissions, and were 63 percent more likely to have shorter hospital stays than patients receiving traditional healthcare services alone.

Although telehealth and text therapy are probably never going to replace face-to-face doctor visits, when it comes to supplemental healthcare, they’re some of the best options available to us right now — at least, until they develop robot doctors.

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