Senior Health

For patients who are homebound, telehealth may be the next best thing to an in-person doctor visit. Telehealth is a broad term defined as any part of the healthcare system practiced remotely, using digital information and communication technologies. If you monitor your health on a mobile health app, that’s telehealth. If you log into your doctor’s patient portal on the web, that’s telehealth. Any type of health care activity, performed or accessed remotely, using technology instead of an in-person consultation can be considered telehealth.

With improved technology in the fields of robotics mobile computing, telehealth and telemedicine are growing. Live video conferencing, electronic storage and transmission of medical data and imaging, and even remote robotic surgery mean that even patients who don’t live in an area with specialized medical professionals can get expert care.

Remote Patient Monitoring

Technology that allows medical professionals to monitor a patient’s health outside of a clinical setting, like at home, is called remote patient monitoring, or RPM. Health care professionals can monitor a patient’s vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac stats, respiratory rates, and oxygen levels remotely by using a wearable device. This provides the medical professional with detailed and instantly-available health data. Devices can also alert doctors when a patient’s data shows a problem, like a high or low blood glucose level. This remote monitoring allows patients to make fewer in-person visits, while still letting them manage their conditions. For homebound patients or those with limited mobility, remote monitoring can be lifesaving.

Electronic Access to Medical Data

Telehealth also ensures that medical communication is secure. Your doctor’s office may have a patient portal. Portals are secure online connections between patients and a doctor’s office that allow patients to communicate with the office securely. Patient portals are more secure than email and let you request prescription refills, review test results, and communicate with a doctor or nurse.

Some doctors may use electronic personal health records, or a PHR system. A PHR system is a secure electronic collection of a patient’s health information that can be accessed through a smartphone app or on any web-enabled computer. A PHR can store information about your medications, allergies, current diagnoses, and doctors’ contact information, and can be very useful to have access to in a medical emergency situation.

Virtual Appointments

Some doctor’s offices, clinics, and even pharmacies, offer virtual appointments. This usually means meeting with a doctor or nurse through online teleconferencing. Therefore, this allows patients to receive ongoing care when in-person visits are not possible. Other ways to communicate virtually with medical practitioners include call centers staffed with nurses ready to answer patient questions. Virtual appointments are best for minor illnesses and follow-up or maintenance visits.

Telehealth also allows doctors to teleconference with each other to discuss specialized cases and diagnoses, meaning that a patient isn’t limited to the expertise of just the doctors in their geographical location.

Limitations to Telehealth

Some critics of telehealth are concerned that the trend removes the human touch from medical care. Likewise, they warn that telehealth may feel cold and impersonal to patients. Alejandro Jadad, founder of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation at University Health Network in Toronto cautions against the impersonality of telehealth. He warned that patients communicating with a “disembodied” clinician on a teleconference may feel like “like a piece of meat on a production line.”

Furthermore, insurance providers are also concerned about the implications of telehealth. Additionally, another potential issue is that it could lead to overuse of medical or “overlapping” medical care, meaning that more than one provider makes a claim for the same service. In conclusion, while there are some concerns about these relatively new technologies, most likely the convenience and benefits to patients will outweigh the limitations.