In the past ten years, the world of telehealth has grown exponentially. More patients are aware of telehealth options and doctors are testing digital clinics across the country. In particular, telehealth has taken off in Silicon Valley, where startups are developing ways to disrupt the healthcare industry and make it easier for patients to access affordable treatment. As a growing phenomenon impacting the entire world, telehealth is something online MPH degree students and graduates should understand.
Here are four ways telehealth is changing the way medicine is practiced in America:
Telehealth Makes Rural Preventative Care Possible
One of the top benefits of telehealth is its ability to provide care to areas where doctor’s offices are scarce. In rural America, where residents have to drive more than an hour to the nearest grocery store, seeing the doctor can turn into a day trip. Residents may have to take time off of work and arrange childcare. Because seeing a medical professional is so involved, many Americans only visit the doctor when they have to, which means routine checks and preventive care fall by the wayside.
However, some organizations are looking to change that. Tony Zhao is the CEO of Agora.io, a company that provides high-quality videoconferencing for telehealth companies. He recently told Becker’s Hospital Review that his company is working to overcome the low-quality and choppy nature of video calls that dissuade patients and doctors from trying this technology.
If more people in rural areas have access to telehealth, overall medical care costs can decrease. Residents can get digital check-ups and doctors can provide advice for healthier living. This also allows doctors to catch problems earlier if something is wrong: it’s much more affordable to have a questionable mole removed than to move across the state to receive chemotherapy for skin cancer.
Doctors Use Telehealth to Refill Prescriptions and Monitor Chronic Conditions
Along with catching problems earlier through better preventive care, more doctors support telehealth because it more easily allows them to refill prescriptions and more efficiently manage patients who have chronic conditions. According to American Well, 57 percent of physicians are willing to conduct virtual visits with their patients. Of those who support video treatment, 86 percent said it’s ideal for managing prescriptions and 80 percent thought it was helpful for managing chronic conditions. American Well is the world’s largest telehealth service, which allowed it to tap into its large audience and gauge the usefulness of different forms of digital communication for medicine.
If doctors can treat patients remotely, then patients don’t have to drive to their offices several times per year and doctors can see multiple patients without leaving their offices. Overall, the burden on doctors is lower while the telehealth options are easier for patients.
Startups are Developing Apps to Monitor Patients Remotely
Historically, patients would get their vitals checked whenever they visited the doctor. A patient’s blood pressure might be fine in the office, but then spike when he or she leaves. Similarly, doctors rely on patient information to identify symptoms and behavior. New advances in telehealth allow for remote monitoring so doctors can get a complete picture of patient behavior.
For example, one patient could wear a small heart monitor that checks their blood pressure and pulse throughout the day. The doctor would receive alerts whenever the patient’s blood pressure spiked or dipped. The patient wouldn’t have to be in the hospital and the doctor would get a more complete understanding of the patient’s health.
One tech startup that recently gained funding for remote telehealth monitoring is Virta. According to TechCrunch, Virta plans to monitor everything patients with Type 2 Diabetes eat and alert them when their blood sugar is getting high or low. This would reduce the patient’s need to prick themselves to get their blood tested and reduce the amount of insulin they take, which means they can save money while treating their condition naturally.
Psychologists Also Use Telehealth to Treat Patients
While telehealth is often discussed in the context of physical medical health, mental health professionals also use this tool to better connect with patients. According to the American Psychological Association, doctors are able to meet with patients all over the world, from Guam to Japan, to work through their PTSD and other mental issues. Previously, patients who would never have received treatment can talk to mental health specialists.
Some psychologists actually prefer to talk to their patients through a video call. Some patients feel more comfortable at home, which means they might open up more. Doctors can also get a peek into the home lives of some of their patients. If a patient is a hoarder or lives in a problematic environment, the psychologist can see it with his or her own eyes instead of hearing the patients describe it. Considering that some patients might downplay home issues or provide misleading information, this gives psychologists the tools to make an accurate diagnosis.
Telehealth also provides more options for treating PTSD in soldiers. Historically, soldiers have hidden their trauma in order to appear strong. As more information about PTSD comes to light, more soldiers are seeking treatment for it. With telehealth, psychologists can call anywhere in the world without having to be deployed.
According to MedScape, the telehealth industry will be worth more than $34 billion by 2020. Every month, more startups launch with the goal of entering the telehealth field, and more organizations like the National Rural Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics create new guidelines for using telehealth.
If you are interested in where technology, public health and telehealth come together, consider pursuing a career in this unique area of medicine. With a Master of Public Health degree online, you can enter the field with a unique perspective on the power of technology to transform healthcare-related experiences.