Telehealth has existed for years; however, it was not until COVID-19 appeared that it became widely used. According to the GlobalData report, 79 percent of US specialists claimed that the use of telemedicine had increased during the pandemic. Understanding what telehealth is and its impact is important because it widens the opportunities for leaders working for both the health and technology industries. 

In this article, we’ll talk about this tech solution’s basics and answer the most common questions, including: how has it evolved? How does it work? What is telehealth services integration, and what benefits does it bring into play? 

What is telehealth? 

Simply put, it’s the remote provision of medical care. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages, where physicians diagnosed patients through hand-written notes. Nowadays, due to the advancements in the telecommunication industry, it leverages its access through a myriad of channels such as videoconferencing and video streaming, among others.

Telehealth or telemedicine?

Despite sounding similar, they are different. On the one hand, telemedicine focuses strictly on remote clinical services. On the other hand, telehealth covers a broader spectrum of healthcare services; it comprehends remote non-clinical services such as staff training and medical education.

Evolution of Telehealth 

As stated before, this technology has been around for quite a while. Although distance communication has been used for centuries, it was not until the invention of the telephone that this technology kicked off. Let’s check out some of its milestones:

Telehealth milestones

  • 1879 – An article in The Lancet talked about the importance of using the phone to schedule appointments, thus alleviating the high volume of unnecessary office visits.  
  • 1924 – Radio News magazine featured the following cover of a remote medical consultation:
  • 1948 – In Pennsylvania, two physicians transmitted a series of radiographic images by telephone.  
  • 1959 – Doctors at the University of Nebraska used a two-way television transmission to send neurological examinations. This event is credited as the first one to use real-time video telemedicine.  
  • 1964 – A television link was created between the University of Nebraska and the Norfolk State Mental Hospital to provide neurological examinations, education, and training. 
  • 1967 – A two-way microwave audio and visual connection network was created in Boston between the Logan International Airport and the Massachusetts General Hospital to provide medical assistance at the airport. 
  • 1972-1975 – The Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care (STARPAHC) remotely assisted the Papago American Indian reservation in Arizona with a technology used by NASA astronauts. 
  • 2019-2020 – The appearance of COVID-19 boosted the use of the internet to diagnose patients and comply with social distancing measures suggested by the World Health Organization.

How does telehealth work?

Over the last couple of years, the health industry has integrated communication technologies that have enhanced the performance and experience of telehealth for both medical staff and patients. Before the internet, remote assistance relied exclusively on channels such as telephone or even regular mail. Nevertheless, today the opportunities of connecting physicians, admin staff, and patients are bigger. Let’s review some of its current services:

  • Mobile health or mHealth

The use of smartphones has leveraged access to medical care. In 2020, there were over 275 million smartphone users in the US, 14 million more than in 2018. 

This popularity has led to the appearance of thousands of health applications. Nowadays, it’s possible to download apps that help you control your weight, monitor your heart rate, quit smoking, or even follow up on pregnancy milestones. These solutions allow patients to track their health and build their clinic history.

  • Video conferencing technology 

Distance is no longer an issue, especially for those who cannot consult a doctor in person, such as senior citizens, people living in rural locations, inmates, and the military, among others. This is the case of the Department of Corrections and the Medical University of South Carolina, which have been using video scopes to treat inmates remotely:

  • Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) 

With this technology, patients can collect information through electronic devices such as wearables, mobile phones, and computers. RPM helps patients not to forget to measure their temperature, weight, oxygen saturation, or blood sugar level (BSL) and transmit this data to their doctors. 

  • Medical care training 

The University of San Diego included telehealth training in their curriculum. According to Jonathan Mack, program director at USD, “We teach clinician students about physical appearance on camera. We teach them about physical cues because a lot is lost in a telehealth visit that isn’t lost when you are in person. However, we can generally mirror in-person interactions if we teach clinicians the proper behaviors, such as looking into the camera, not taking notes, making sure that you’re dressed appropriately, and ensuring the environment is appropriate, so there aren’t distractors for the patient.” Now that we’ve covered how this technology works, let’s review some key benefits it brings to the industry.

5 benefits of telehealth

Remotely assisting patients has a series of benefits for the industry and the general public in terms of accessibility and cost reduction. Additionally, it has been a valuable resource to diagnose people during the pandemic. Let’s check them out:

  • Better access to medical specialties 

Through this technology, patients can get assistance from specialists located anywhere in the world. It opens the opportunity of reaching out to researchers and medical practitioners that conduct innovative methodologies and procedures as well. Thanks to this, patients no longer depend on the limitations of the medical facility where they are located. 

  • Increased patient reach 

This technology widens the opportunity of reaching remote locations. In this order of ideas, patients that live far away only need an internet connection to contact their physicians and receive a primary diagnosis. 

  • Fewer costs for health institutions 

Telehealth apps can perform basic diagnostic tests at a much lower cost than an on-visit consultation. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, on average, $86.64 is saved every time a patient receives online assistance rather than going in person.

  • Less effort and travel costs for patients 

With remote assistance, ill patients can have an initial diagnostic in the comfort of their homes. They don’t have to worry about transportation, travel costs, or parking. According to the Oregon Health & Science University, 45 percent of patients who accessed these services saved $6.4 million in travel costs. 

  • Streamlined visit times 

The overall process efficiency is optimized through remote assistance. Health centers can determine the priority of each patient faster and improve decision-making.  Telehealth in numbers

Future of telehealth

Without any doubt, COVID-19 has put telehealth in the spotlight. Data shows that, if implemented correctly, this technology has the potential of disrupting the way institutions deliver medical care. The benefits in terms of costs, efficiency, and patient experience, are numerous. Nevertheless, it’s important to develop a plan that effectively integrates these solutions. Avoid incorporating technologies just for the sake of it; understand the pros and cons of each service, evaluate its correspondence, and foresee possible outcomes.

If you’re not sure where to start your telemedicine development, what technologies to use, or how to comply with strict regulations, TEAM is here to assist you with any challenges or bottlenecks you may have. We have vast experience and expertise in helping companies thrive through the complexities of digital transformation. 

That said, is telehealth the future of healthcare? At TEAM international, we think it will definitively be a game-changer for the health industry.