Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people are forced into isolation and quarantine. Meanwhile, telephone and video communication is actively used by doctors to consult patients who have anxiety and fear for their health in connection with the current COVID-19 outbreak. Thus, online consultations provide a good opportunity to maintain health, as well as avoid unnecessary contacts these days.
And so, we see that the pandemic has led to the growth of integrating telemedicine and telehealth into the healthcare. But what is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?
According to AAFP, telehealth is different from telemedicine in that it refers to a broader scope of remote health care services than telemedicine. Telemedicine involves clinical services without an in-person visit, while telehealth refers to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.
How the pandemic is changing healthcare
The coronavirus pandemic has forced hospitals around the world to quickly adapt to new conditions. There are not enough places for patients in hospitals; that's why gyms and concert venues have been converted into hospitals. Patients with other chronic diseases sometimes stay at home, though they have to be hospitalized. As a result, telemedicine within a few weeks of quarantine became the main form of interaction with patients.
The Conversation informs that the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how doctors deliver health care services. The global health crisis has changed the concept on how Canadians obtain medical care and has opened the door to the new era of telemedicine. Almost overnight, patients have stopped visiting their doctors and are instead having online consultations. The author adds that health care has sprinted into the 21st century.
A new RAND Corporation study shows that during the pandemic the growth of telehealth use among people with private insurance has occurred mostly among those who are more affluent and those who live in metropolitan areas. And there was a 20-fold increase in the rate of telemedicine usage in March 2020 when the coronavirus outbreak started. But, in the meantime, the rate of offline doctor visits was reduced by nearly 50%. However, researchers concern that the pandemic may be worsening current inequalities in overall health care utilization.
Is telehealth really helpful?
According to Harward Health Publishing, telehealth has several important advantages. Technologies help patients reduce costs, and give the ability to provide care to people with mobility limitations, or those in rural areas who don't have access to a local doctor or clinic. During the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth has become a better alternative to in-person medical visits, as it is safe and convenient. Also, telehealth is a great solution to many tasks, such as recording measurements, having a virtual visit, using an online portal to check your test results, sharing information, coordinating care between a clinic and doctors, getting email or text reminders, and monitoring older adults at home.
Brian Hasselfeld, M.D. who is assistant medical director for digital health innovations at Johns Hopkins Medicine tells us about comfort and convenience of telehealth utilization. As a consequence, patients don’t need to spend time on driving to the clinic, because they can just have virtual visits at any suitable time. Besides, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, flu and other infectious diseases, doctors can use online appointments to prescreen patients for possible infectious disease. Moreover, telemedicine gives an opportunity to the doctor to see his patient in his home environment. That can be very helpful, for example, for allergists to identify clues in the surroundings that can cause allergies. Finally, telemedicine makes it easy to connect with a doctor when a patient needs some consultation.
In fact, the use of digital information and communication technologies is a convenient option for patients who cannot visit a doctor. Telehealth additionally helps to spread research and medical information to improve the global health care. However, using telehealth has some disadvantages as well. The main disadvantage is that telemedicine systems, which let us access, store, share, and secure patient medical data, are vulnerable to cyber threats. And also, unfortunately there are some types of diseases that require in-office visits and cannot be diagnosed and treated online.
Though no service is perfect, the use of digital communications technology in health care is showing permanent growth every year due to the development of new technological solutions, availability of various gadgets and widespread use of internet. And it goes without saying, telehealth today is in greater demand than ever.