Telehealth or telemedicine through technology would have been possible a few decades ago, despite this, only recently did we have this tool open for medical use in patient care, generating valid medical records.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, a new care model had to be used throughout the world, including in the healthcare area. Since telehealth is defined as the provision of medical services at a distance, using some type of safe technology, first consultation, psychiatric therapy and services, physiotherapy and speech therapy, drug prescriptions or refills, assessment of the need for a face-to-face consultation, and even some emergency services may be provided.
Before the 2020 pandemic, only about 35% of US hospitals offered services via telehealth, today that number is at 76%. In some countries like Brazil, telehealth was something completely new, having been made a legislative ordinance just to allow the use of the tool and to establish some limits, since until then telemedicine was prohibited in the country. Another barrier before the pandemic was the fact that few health plans covered telemedicine consultations in the U.S. and require that care, despite being remote, take place in an authorized place, such as a doctor's office or hospital.
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Even with its slow and bureaucratic start, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process and forced doctors from all areas to renew their care and their technologies, thus causing many professionals to move from paper records to electronic records, digital prescriptions, and, of course, care via telehealth.
With the pandemic peak extremely sharp until the beginning of the second half of 2020, there was a rush to find new ways to see patients even with the lockdown in place. Telehealth was the key to keeping patients in touch with their doctors, continuing with treatments, and still safe at home, especially for patients who were already in more delicate immunological conditions. In this way, patients who tested positive for the infection could also undergo consultations and be treated without putting the lives of doctors and others at risk.
With the demand, the legislation became less rigorous and bureaucratic in order to benefit the population, within the measures were: to expand the services allowed to telehealth, expand the list of doctors allowed to carry out consultations via telehealth, and allow patients to perform telehealth consultations without a pre-determined location.
Telehealth ended up pleasing healthcare professionals, nurses, doctors and administrators agree that they were able to deliver good care to patients during the pandemic thanks to the new tool, and in a survey carried out by HealthcareIT News indicated that these professionals intend to continue providing this type of care even after the pandemic ends. Where 94% of respondents to the survey said that telehealth should be maintained and expanded further in the coming years.
According to a survey by Medical News Today telehealth works in most situations, for example in cancer patients, where there have been improvements in the timeline of diagnosis and treatment, access to care and information, and the convenience of not having to travel, let's talk a little about the advantages.
Comfort and convenience
This may be the first and most obvious advantage of telehealth. Without wasting commuting time, it's much easier for patients with a busy schedule to be able to schedule their appointments with the doctor, in addition to being able to make the consultation using any device of their choice, such as a cell phone, or tablet, or computer.
Patients who are ill or have some incapacity to move around may find the option of telehealth better also because they do not have to go through an uncomfortable or painful journey to meet the doctor.
Attendances time, specialists, and returns
With telehealth, the waiting time for an appointment can also be reduced, so patients can receive prompt care instead of having to wait for a specific day. This is extra beneficial for chronic patients, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
It can also be advantageous for some specialties to be able to see the environment in which the patient lives. For example for allergists, seeing the patient's environment would facilitate a diagnosis or show aggravations for the patient's condition. Neurologists and physiotherapists can assess a patient's mobility ability in their home.
Some multi-professional clinics provide specialist assistance online without an appointment, 24/7. This makes life much easier for patients who need an appointment with a specialist, where instead of waiting months and going through other doctors, the patient can go directly to one of them.
Family Connections and Costs
For some consultations it is good that the patient has a family member together, helping to answer questions or provide additional information that the patient does not remember.
When we talk about costs since with telehealth the patient does not need to travel, there is no need to find someone to stay with the kids or daycare, this reduces secondary expenses and makes the patient not lose so many hours of work.
The Medical News Today also showed that patients in telehealth, spend much less time in the hospital and its associated expenses. Of course, telehealth also benefits from costs for hospitals and doctors' offices, since with fewer patients having to go to the site, it is possible to reduce the costs of extra staff and even the cost of renting extra rooms.
Better care for patients in difficult conditions
Telehealth was and is also revolutionary in the care of patients who have difficulty accessing health care, such as:
- Patients with mobility limitations;
- Patients in rural areas without access to the local hospital;
- Patients within the penitentiary system.
In the first case, patients who could not go to a face-to-face consultation, often because they do not have a friend or relative who can take them, may feel more independent using telehealth. Patients from more remote rural areas are also a great example of how telehealth can help isolated populations.
Although first aid and simple care are usually available within the prison itself, prisoners often have to wait before gaining access to secondary and non-urgent care. The prisoners are also mostly reluctant to go to community services, due to social stigma and having to be handcuffed. Telehealth improves this whole situation too, in addition to improving the cost of medical care in the chains.
Mental health and emergency care
A study by mHealth Intelligence showed that the use of telehealth was more popular within the mental health area than in other areas of health, with 46% of mental health consultations being via telehealth against 22% of medical consultations.
Other important areas were emergency cases, physiotherapy, support for patients with chronic infections, and preventive care, where the patient can have preventive care at home, without the need to be exposed to the pandemic as there was no imminent need.
Telehealth was a valuable tool and it saved many lives during these pandemic years, it offered advantages, showed new paths of patient care, and improved the health conditions of many of them, helping to prevent the disease from spreading and more lives being lost.
All of these advantages will continue to help patients even when the risk of COVID-19 has passed, as mentioned earlier, telehealth has shown positive results even in patients with serious illnesses.
By using telehealth in your medical practice, you can make your agenda and appointments easier, and more convenient for your patients and for you, the doctor, as you also spend less time commuting, as well as fewer costs for both sides.
Ninsaúde Apolo can help you with telehealth and many other tips. Keep following the blog to stay on top of more content like this. Are you a healthcare professional but do not yet use management software for your clinic or practice? Meet Ninsaúde Apolo.