Telehealth Services: Medical Help from Your Living Room
The expansion of communications technology in the medical, mental health and social services industries was already underway when the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked it to becoming a necessity, rather than a convenience. The idea of receiving medical help from your own home was not foreign. Doctors who performed house calls were depicted in movies dating back to the days of silent-films and in the 1940s over 40 percent of American doctor visits were performed as such. Today, however, the leather medical bags, reflex hammers and stethoscopes of old have been replaced by laptops, tablets, smart phones and video conferencing.
The benefits of receiving telehealth services from your living room are numerous. Convenience may sit atop the general list but others, such as your personal comfort, reduction of transportation expenses, expanded scheduling options and instant access to documents or medical files top the list.
You might have other questions regarding what types of telehealth services are available to you and how to even start the process. Conversely, this might be your first time reading about telehealth and therefore need to understand what it is overall. Options for receiving medical help from your own living room are plentiful. Read on to understand what types of telehealth services are available and how you can begin to access them today.
Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
Telehealth is an umbrella term under which other more specific health services fall. It refers to telecommunication and electronic-based technology utilized as a means of providing care to patients from nearly any distance. Telehealth includes mental health services such as counseling or anger management. It also includes psychological assessments and prescription services. Telehealth also covers and includes telemedicine.
Telemedicine more specifically refers to clinical services provided remotely via use of technology. Programs such as Microsoft Teams allow for clinical appointments to happen remotely between two or more people. With the appropriate devices and tech, you can even see your own x-rays, MRI or CT images and discuss them with your doctor.
Telehealth is a broader term covering numerous types of remote services, including both clinical and non-clinical. Telemedicine is a specific term used to describe the administering of remote, clinical services through telecommunications technology.
Differences Between Clinical & Non-Clinical Services
Clinical services refer to services facilitating direct care to a patient from a provider. When a doctor is said to be “in clinic,” this refers to them making rounds and engaging in one-on-one appointments with their patients. The majority of clinical service providers are required to be specifically licensed and/or certified. Physicians, physician assistants, surgical/nursing assistants, registered nurses, anesthetist and more are all examples of roles provided as clinical services.
Non-clinical services are more supportive in their roles with patients. These services still involve direct (or remote) contact with patients but do not procure treatment, direct care or diagnosis of ailments. Examples of non-clinical services include transcriptionist, medical recruiting, sales of medical devices, executive positions in hospitals, IT, billers, coders, liaisons, and coordinators.
Telecare is another service falling under the broader umbrella of telehealth. Sometimes you are required to be at home for medical reasons. Perhaps you elderly and a fall risk. Your family cannot be home with you all the time, but you also do not want to live in an assisted living facility. Rather than having a full-time nurse living in your home you can choose Telecare options such as alert and monitoring systems, which monitor your vital signs and send signals to care providers in the event of an emergency. It alerts them to a sudden change in heart-rate or blood pressure. Telecare helps keep your independence and safety on an even keel while also tracking ways in which lifestyle habits and vitals change over time.
What Types of Telehealth Services Are Available?
The types of telehealth services available to you are vast and simultaneously dependent on insurance coverage and technological accessibility. Have you recently experienced trauma in your life and need to talk to someone who can help you process it in a healthy way? One-on-one counseling services via telehealth appointments are mental health services covered by most insurers. Some other common types of telehealth services available are:
- Telemedicine: clinical, post-surgery follow-up visits, medication/prescription assessments.
- Mental Health: counseling, physiological assessments, anger management.
- Physical Therapy: post-injury recovery, strength and conditioning, occupational therapy.
- Social Services: financial assistance, case-management options, housing, medical benefits, childcare options, education.
- Telecare: monitoring and tracking vital signs and mobility from home allowing you to maintain your independence without sacrificing your safety.
Insurance coverage is always a factor in medical services, whether in-person or telehealth-provided. With advances in technology, insurance coverage has kept up in-kind. Please check with your insurance company to see what is covered under your plan. Co-pays and deductibles are always possibilities.
Benefits & Challenges of Telehealth Services from Home
Convenience is a huge benefit of receiving telehealth services from home. Travel time is not reduced – it is eliminated. So too are travel expenses such as gas, parking fees, to-go food and more. Everyone has had a situation where they forgot an important document when leaving for an appointment. This is no longer an issue with telehealth appointments. Referrals and orders are faxed or otherwise submitted electronically. Information forms you need to fill out are right there in your home with you. Privacy and comfort are important factors for many patients. Telehealth eliminates the need to sit in waiting rooms with other patients. In fact, you can sit in your favorite chair the entire appointment.
On the other hand, it is possible your living environment is not conducive to engaging in telehealth appointments from home. Perhaps you have roommates or young children for whom you are responsible. Wi-Fi and/or phone service data connections are essential for telehealth appointments, especially those involving video conferencing. While applications such as Zoom or Skype work great for telehealth purposes, they do also consume chunks of data when running a thirty or sixty minute session. Additionally, none of these are HIPPA approved, and most medical facilities utilize their own approved platforms. You must have reliable internet connection to make telehealth work.