What is Telehealth and Telemedicine?
Every year, new advancements in technology allow for new and exciting ways to deliver quality healthcare. One continually growing area of medical care is telehealth and telemedicine. So, what is telehealth, and how does it differ from telemedicine?
The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine
It’s not uncommon to hear the terms telehealth and telemedicine used interchangeably, and in truth they are not completely different. If you remove the tele prefix from the words, the difference is essentially the difference between health and medicine.
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth and refers to the diagnosis and treatment of patients by physicians and medical professionals remotely through telecommunication systems and software. Anything involving actual clinical care by medical professionals to patients would fit under the telemedicine umbrella. Meanwhile, telehealth is expanded to include other health-related communications through telecommunications systems.
Additional telehealth services could include provider and patient education, health information services, and even patient self-care. Telehealth can even benefit chiropractic and physical therapy. The use of medical-related mobile apps, video conferencing, and more would all fit under the telehealth category.
What are the Benefits of Telehealth and Telemedicine?
- The biggest benefit, and really the purpose of telehealth, is to enable healthcare professionals to communicate and provide care without being in a face-to-face setting.
- Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, telehealth has expanded the ability of medical providers to provide medical care, diagnose patient symptoms, prescribe treatment options, conduct care referrals, advance their own education, and collaborate with other medical professionals.
- Telehealth and telemedicine are particularly useful for providing quality medical care in remote areas that previously wouldn’t have been able to receive quality medical care. For those that live in more rural areas, telemedicine and telehealth have been an incredible benefit.
- In recent years, many states have been encouraging providers to implement telemedicine services. Many health providers are adapting telemedicine technology to improve care for patients. With advances in communication and technology, many services that would have been previously impossible are now available to patients in remote locations.
As more telemedicine systems are being deployed, providers can provide faster and more accurate and convenient services to their patients. The following describes some of the ways telemedicine technology is changing the way patients receive healthcare.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
One major benefit of the growth in telehealth services is the ability for providers and patients to work together through remote patient monitoring, or RPM. Because telehealth utilizes new and improving technologies to increase communications between providers and patients, physicians and practitioners now provide more regular and personalized check-ins, instead of relying on in-person appointments.
This is especially vital for patients who have ongoing or significant health concerns. For instance, a patient who suffers from diabetes or kidney issues is now able to provide consistent and regular updates to his doctors on important activities and vital signs, which can help to diagnose and treat emergent or changing conditions much more quickly.
For instance, such patients now have the ability to perform actions like:
• Using a mobile phone or computer to provide updates on diet, blood sugar levels, and other vital signs for continual monitoring
• Track medication schedules and ensure patients follow prescribed treatment plans, or manage “as needed” medication prescriptions
• Request medication refills or order other medical supplies as needed
• Receive education from physicians on their personal situation.
• Get reminders about regular treatment items, like scans, vaccines, physical therapy routines, and more.
To top it all off, remote patient monitoring reduces the need for patients to visit their care providers too frequently, which lowers the cost to them and frees the medical providers to continue to see other patients who need their services with the extra time.
Better Collaboration Between Medical Professionals
The benefits of telehealth don’t just apply to the relationship between medical providers and patients but extend to the communication and collaboration between medical professionals. With advances in telecommunication systems that are HIPAA-compliant, doctors, nurse practitioners, lab technicians, and health educators all have an increased and improved opportunity to consult each other and find new solutions that would otherwise be inaccessible.
This is particularly useful when a patient’s issues may span across multiple specialties. Historically, communication between specialists would often take days or weeks to take place. Meanwhile, patients continue to suffer with their symptoms or pain, and are often left to fend for themselves or be completely disabled as a result. With new ways to collaborate, medical providers can diagnose complicated issues and create personalized treatment plans more efficiently, which is greatly beneficial to patients in need.
Easier Management of Electronic Health Records
One of the primary areas in which providers are increasingly using telemedicine to improve their services is in electronic health records (EHR). Electronic health records enable providers to collect, organize, maintain, and share medical information from multiple sources. As a result, EHR is easier to access and to update than it was years ago and can support the needs of many types of patients. The EHR can also be updated easily to make sure that providers can continue to offer the latest technology and practices to their patients.
Improvements in Research and New Treatment Discovery
The effects of telehealth extend beyond the direct treatment of patients by medical providers and help to make research and the discovery of new treatment options more efficient. Medical researchers can send testing results to other research teams around the world, making the sharing of information a much easier process. In addition, researchers no longer have to be in the same location to conduct quality research.
While there is always a benefit to working in the same space, research teams can now consist of professionals and experts from around the world. In much the same way that businesses have embraced the idea of remote work, medical research can now be expanded to include a global team of medical experts who can conduct quality research and make faster discoveries of new treatment options to be created.
Management of Chronic Conditions
Chronic conditions like diabetes, irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and others affect about 133 million people in the US, according to the National Health Council. That’s more than 40% of the total population. Managing a chronic condition can be a burden on patients who are already dealing with the illness itself. Video visits reduce the amount of effort and time that patients must devote to their own care.
Telehealth appointments makes it easier for them to comply with treatment plans, improving their health as a result. In one study, the Veteran’s Administration was able to reduce the number of bed days of care by 25% and the number of in hospital admissions by 19% using home-based video visits.
Routine Follow-up Appointments
Even for those without a chronic condition, follow-up appointments after a visit for an acute condition are essential to ensuring that the proposed treatment is working as expected. However, it is all too common for patients to skip these visits because of the inconvenience and expense of going into the office. The option of a video encounter for follow-up improves compliance with aftercare recommendations and makes it possible for providers to ensure that the right treatment has been prescribed.
Discussions About Test Results
After a patient has a laboratory workup, diagnostic imaging, or other medical tests, it is important that the results and subsequent treatment, if needed, are explained to the patient. It is common that these results are reviewed over the telephone. However, communicating complex and important information in a way that patients understand can be difficult without a face-to-face interaction.
Telehealth is the perfect solution for improving the quality of the communication without forcing the patient to make another trip to the office. It also has the added benefit of being reimbursable, whereas most telephone encounters are not.
Treatment of Mental Health Issues
Studies have proven that telehealth is a safe and effective way to treat depression and other mental health conditions. Video visits can be a great alternative for patients who are unwilling or unable to seek in-person care. They eliminate concerns about privacy and allow providers to see more patients each day, more efficiently leveraging the scarce number of providers who offer this type of care. Telehealth has also been used successfully in the treatment of PTSD, with no loss of effectiveness vs. in-office care. For informatoin on how Kareo can help your mental health clinic, visit us here.
Once a patient has been prescribed a medication, whether it is for a short time or for the long-term, it is important to monitor the results to ensure that the medication is working as anticipated and that there are no unexpected side effects. Often, however, the barriers to an in-person visit, such as missed time from work, the time and expense of travel, and other concerns keep patients from this important follow-up. They might needlessly suffer side effects or stop taking the medicine without a consultation. Remote visits are quick and easy and perfect for periodic check-ins for people taking prescription medicines.
Care Following a Hospital Admission
After an admission to the hospital, it can be difficult or even inadvisable for the patient to travel to the office for important follow-up care and advice. Video visits are the perfect way to ensure that the patient gets needed care without asking them to come in for a visit. The provider can make an assessment of the patient’s well-being and response to treatment and take steps to avoid an unnecessary, and expensive, readmission.
Saves Money for Patients and Medical Practices
The widespread adaptation of electronic health records makes telehealth even easier because all records are kept in a secure digital cloud and can be accessed from anywhere. It also helps patients and medical practices save money in the long run. Learn more about how telehealth saves money for patients and medical practices.
Roadblocks to Telehealth and Telemedicine
First, because telehealth and telemedicine utilize new and emerging technologies, not all medical practices are utilizing these services. As a result, not all patients and providers are able to take advantage of the myriad of benefits telehealth and telemedicine can provide. Many practices are utilizing health record technologies and internal systems that don’t currently support the proper telehealth requirements for HIPAA compliance, and it’s not uncommon for practice managers or owners to be overloaded and too busy to explore or implement telehealth solutions.
Another roadblock to the growth of telehealth and telemedicine is that they require the use of newer technologies. While the biggest segment of patients consists of older individuals who may not have much experience with new technologies and are notoriously non-tech-savvy it can feel like a big mountain to climb to enable them to utilize these new systems. It can be a challenge to help some patients with simply using email, let alone to conduct a video conference with their medical provider or log details into a mobile app on their smartphone.
While telehealth and telemedicine provide new ways for patients to connect with their providers, there is no substitute for in-person patient care. Because of this, another major roadblock to the adoption of these technologies is a lack of trust. According to a study conducted by medical research company Medscape, 64% of patients are not sure that diagnoses provided through telemedicine are as accurate as in-person diagnoses, and 33% report that they have concerns about the privacy and security of such communications. This extends to insurance companies, as not all insurance providers have fully embraced covering care provided through telecommunication channels.
There are also inherent compliance risks that practice managers must address (learn more about possible compliance traps with billing virtual services).
In addition, as a provider it can be daunting to try and determine whether payers will cover telehealth services, and if so, whether any restrictions apply. Each state varies so it’s best to understand telehealth and telemedicine billing rules and regulations. Learn more about navigating telehealth laws.
Telemedicine in Rural & Remote Areas
Many rural areas lack access to mental health services, which may inadvertently exclude clients from care. Alternatives to traditional in-person therapy are needed. The utilization of telehealth, or secure video visits, seems an obvious step to increase available rural mental health services. Learn more about telemedicine in rural and remote areas.
Adapting Your Patients to Telehealth and Telemedicine
With restrictions eased and reimbursements increased to encourage you as a mental health provider to provide increased telehealth care, the next step is to help your patients make an easier transition from in-office to telehealth sessions. Learn more about how to help your patients transition to telehealth.
Telemedicine: Public & Private Reimbursement
The public appetite for telehealth is large and growing. Research has shown that telehealth is as effective and significantly less costly than in-office care. In addition, public and private payers are beginning to appreciate the cost reduction possibilities of telehealth and increasing the circumstances under which video visits get paid.
Learn more about public & private reimbursements in telemedicine.
Billing Telemedicine to Medicare
If you’re a provider offering telemedicine to Medicare patients, you should know that payers and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) are keeping close tabs on your billing. So before you move forward, learn a bit more about Medicare and telemedicine.
Why Billing Companies Should Recommend Telehealth to Clients
Telehealth can provide your billing clients with a convenient and accessible way for their patients to access care as well as help providers capture time spent on follow-up calls that have normally gone unreimbursed. Learn more about why billing companies should recommend telehealth.
Telehealth and Covid-19
The spread of the COVID-19 is requiring new ways to provide healthcare to minimize patients coming into the office and potentially spreading the disease to those who are not infected. As a result, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have made some adjustments to the delivery and payment of telehealth services. Learn more about how Covid-19 has changed telehealth.
Take Advantage of Telehealth and Telemedicine with Kareo
Telehealth and Telemedicine can provide a major benefit to your practice, and allow for new opportunities to see more patients, provide improved and more personalized care, and generate a new revenue stream for your practice.
Kareo Telehealth allows you to connect with patients anywhere, anytime. It’s simple, secure, and streamlined—and fully reimbursed by private payers. With seamless integration to the Kareo EHR and practice management software, you can implement an efficient and effective telehealth solution. Learn more about Kareo Telehealth here and get started today!