Telehealth – The Future is Here
Telehealth is the use of telecommunication systems to provide health or medical care. Examples include videoconferencing, store and forward technologies, and remote monitoring devices. Over the last 5-10 years since the wide acceptance and availability of broadband technology, the use of telehealth applications has substantially increased. The private sector is estimated to be worth over $1 billion by the end of 2010. Additionally, over $4 billion has been appropriated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support Health IT. The foundation of telehealth technologies is supported by two main ideas, the reduction in travel time and its associated costs.
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telehealth technologies give a clinician the ability to monitor and measure patient health data and information over geographical, social, and cultural distances. Additionally, these video and non-video technologies are utilized to collect and transmit patient health information. Telehealth technologies can track the vital signs of patients with diseases, such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, and other various chronic and acute illnesses. Telehealth systems are supported in hospitals and homes across the country, particularly for their preventive medicine applications. The faster information can be gathered and transferred to the appropriate professional, the better it is for the patient. Studies have shown a reduction in emergency room visits and rescue calls, resulting in improved health outcomes for patients receiving continuous care via telehealth monitoring. These outcomes include an increase in medication compliance, a decrease in patient isolation, and improved access to immediate care and services.
Limited high speed internet access in certain geographic regions provides some difficulties in the delivery of telehealth applications, specifically real-time interactive video. Because of the bandwidth demands of interactive video, patients living in rural areas tend to use telephone or email applications instead. Another disadvantage is the lack of insurance reimbursement. Although there are a few reimbursement models through Medicare, private insurance companies provide very little support for telehealth technologies. Additionally, the liabilities of intervention have yet to be fully understood due to the novelty of this service delivery medium. One of the biggest setbacks for nationwide telehealth adoption is the cost of the technology. Some large videoconferencing rooms can cost in the upwards of $200,000. However, as the technology components get cheaper and better, overall costs will reduce over time.
Although the majority of telehealth applications are related to elderly individuals, other arenas are being tested and considered. Children with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities are being treated and monitored by non-medical and medical professionals in the comfort of their home. By using interactive video, the parents and children can have therapy sessions with their professional remotely. It is important to realize that this advanced interactive video is unlike standard web chat hardware and software. Advanced interactive video includes dynamic remote controls, pan-tilt-zoom camera capabilities, public and private audio modes, advanced video and audio clarity controls, and secure data encryption. Consequently, without these features, remote therapeutic improvements will be more difficult to obtain.