A quick Google search for predictions in healthcare for 2016 produces hundreds of results—most of which tout the rise of telehealth. We think that this will be the year that telehealth truly transforms healthcare. Why? Population health management—a form of healthcare delivery that mandates collaboration among healthcare systems, agencies, and organizations in order to improve the health outcomes of communities. And that’s exactly what telehealth can help to facilitate.
What is telehealth?
The term telehealth is used to describe the remote delivery of health care, health information, or health education via technology. In general, it provides the means for increased contact between the patient and the medical system. Some of the most groundbreaking and valuable applications of telehealth include video conferencing and store-and-forward technology.
Who benefits from telehealth?
While telehealth is dramatically expanding the capabilities of health systems across the board, rural communities will especially benefit from these technologies in 2016. Currently, a quarter of the US population live in rural areas yet only about 10% of physicians live in those same regions. People in these communities often have long commutes to the nearest primary care physician, and simply do not have access to specialty care. That’s where telehealth comes in.
Video conferencing enables patients and physicians to meet for consultations remotely. Specialists can fully examine a patient or an X-ray to provide a diagnosis in real time from a computer, tablet, or even a mobile device. Store-and-forward technology allows rural healthcare organizations to forward clinical information to remote specialists, who are then able to provide consultation to those in need of specialty expertise.
Providers, specialists, and healthcare organizations also benefit; they’re able to expand their reach through telehealth. “When rural patients know their hospital is using telemedicine, they have higher regard for that hospital and are less likely to bypass it for treatment at an urban facility,” said James Marcin, director of the UC Davis Children’s Hospital Pediatric Telemedicine Program.
The future is telehealth.
Overall, telehealth is changing the world of healthcare for the better. Though it’s not a new idea—telehealth has been in practice for decades—unremitting technological advancements and new government policies make it a novel one. Over 50 percent of states now require payers to cover telehealth services, and the US Congress is making great strides in favor of telehealth. For instance, there are 17 telehealth bills pending the in the Senate and 21 in the house. Telehealth is on the fast track to not only improving the way the medical system can provide care, but in some communities, being the primary means of some subspecialty care.