Telehealth: Everything You Need To Know
You may have been hearing more and more about a service known as Telehealth. Quite simply this all things health online. This could simply be speaking to a doctor or in our case a dermatologist.
We’ll take you through the ins and outs and why Telehealth is becoming increasingly important.
- Why Do We Need Telehealth?
- Benefits of Telehealth
- Telehealth in a Pandemic
- The US Government Gives Backing
Telehealth is on the Rise
Telehealth connects patients with physicians and nurses when they need answers to medical questions, wherever they are.
Given the speed of innovation, many Americans aren’t sure what telehealth is, how it will impact their lives, and are hesitant to accept the advice of medical professionals they’ve not seen face-to-face. As insurers and payers look for ways to cut costs, telehealth will become increasingly important because physicians can treat more patients in less time.
Why Do We Need Telehealth?
In the United States, there’s a shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) and an uneven geographic distribution of those physicians across the country. The average wait time to see a physician in the United States, according to Merritt Hawkins, is 18.5 days.
If you live in Boston, your wait could be closer to 70 days. In fact, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging reported a worrisome shortage of primary care physicians. According to the report, only one in five Americans has adequate access to a primary care physician due to physician shortages in their regions.
One way that hospitals and developers are working to solve this issue is using mHealth to increase access to care. Due to regulatory hurdles, telehealth/mHealth adoption varies from state to state, but is generally higher in more rural areas. According to the Center for Connected Health, for example, Alaska has a 75% adoption rate.
Telehealth increases access to esteemed medical experts, with the ability to connect patients in rural Alabama with doctors at the nation’s top hospitals. The Mayo Clinic Health System uses telehealth to connect Mayo doctors to emergency responders in some rural areas to help triage patients and prepare emergency department staff for incoming traumas.
Face-to-Face Visits Are Not Always Necessary
According to a 2006 study, 70% of doctor office visits are unnecessary. Many of concerns addressed in a face-to-face doctor visit can be dealt with through telehealth instead. The average cost for a basic office visit with a primary care physician varies but can often be more than $100. Plus the average interaction with the doctor is three to six minutes. By contrast, telehealth consultations are around $35, and the consultations typically last over 15 minutes.
Benefits Of Telehealth
Telehealth has many benefits and we’ve already touched on some of those above. For an aging population and those in rural areas, telehealth is the perfect solution. However, the benefits do not end there. Lets’ take a deeper look.
Firstly, Telehealth provides direct, 24/7 access to diagnoses, prescriptions, and general health information. Even on weekends or while abroad, you can access your doctor through your phone. These days, you can even view health records online and on mobile. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Convenience: Telehealth apps, like First Derm, keep patients with typical conditions at work or with their families rather than at a doctor’s office. You still get the medical information you need from board-certified professionals, but on your terms rather than their office hours.
Access: Because you don’t need to vie for space in an exam room, you’ll get answers to your medical questions quicker. Physicians using telehealth are able to treat more patients in general. By treating certain conditions remotely, physicians have more time during the day for face-to-face encounters with patients that have potentially severe conditions.
Cost savings: With telehealth, you don’t have to take time away from work to see the doctor, you don’t have to travel to the doctor’s office, and consults cost less in general.
College Students Are The Early Adopters
Naturally students will always seek out the most convenient and cheapest solution to even the most straightforward problem. They are fantastic early adopters for revolutionary concepts and ideas that make life easier and for a better price. Telehealth is most certainly one of these.
What exactly is the problem for college students? The same as it is for just about all of us… Finding the perfect time for a doctor’s appointment amid classes, working and studying.
Since the Telehealth revolution, more of us are using services such as First Derm. However, students have always had an extra incentive to jump on board.
First and foremost is health coverage. Around two-thirds of college students are still on their parents’ health insurance plan. Even though the Affordable Care Act lets students stay on their family’s plan longer — until age 26 — the costs of these health plans are increasing (Telehealth and the U.S. College Population). As far back as ten years ago in 2010, the cost of family coverage increased 14%, it has not got any cheaper. This means families will have to pay higher premiums for dependents.
Furthermore, many campuses have school health plans, but these services are becoming more restricted due to budget restraints. The Affordable Care Act requires schools to expand coverage to include prescription drugs and preventative care services among others, but to compensate for these costly requirements, many campuses are reducing their health center hours or shutting down their health insurance plans completely.
About two million college-age students don’t have health coverage, which means they don’t have access to preventative care and are more likely to end up in the hospital instead of a doctor’s office. This is a great argument for telehealth for both the student and the hospitals.
When students go away for college, sometimes they would prefer to keep their hometown doctor instead of having to hunt for a new primary care physician close to campus. Telehealth would allow them to keep in contact with their doctor through their phone.
If they do decide to switch physicians, having all their health records accessible through telehealth would make the transition simple and easy. Telehealth would make it easy for students to keep in contact with their doctor throughout the semester and would make it easier to set up an annual exam when they’re home.
It is also an easy and affordable way for students to access healthcare 24/7. It’s a way to unburden parents who currently have to continue paying for family health plans, and a way to maintain health in a stressful time.
While telehealth would be beneficial for anyone needing healthcare, it would be particularly useful for college students who don’t want to have to worry about another additional cost on top of tuition, and students who don’t have the time to find transportation and specialty care amid midterms and classes.
Telehealth: A Modern Example
We’ve got a good idea on what telehealth is and its benefits by now. We also know that college students were one of the first to see its benefits due to their own immediate needs. However, what does it look like now?
Telehealth in a Pandemic
Today’s technology has moved on leaps and bounds. Despite that, we’re unable to escape the power mother nature holds on us. Lets take a look at the recent pandemic: Coronavirus (Covid-19). Telehealth accelerated into the national interest due to its integral role in keeping people healthy from home. When healthcare and hospitals were threatened, it was time for Telehealth to step in.
The US Government Backs Telehealth
A major breakthrough came as much of the US government outwardly and vocally supported Telehealth for the first time. In Masacheusettes, Governor Charlie Baker mandated that insurance companies cover any accrued costs from telehealth services.
Marylou Sudders who heads the states coronavirus command center stated that
“By enabling patients to remain at home, rapid treatment delivery can be provided. We can adhere to social distancing protocols, we can optimize efficiency, and conserve resources.”
The advice makes perfect sense and is something we should all try to adhere to. Should we need medical care, it is worth opting for an online service to relieve pressure and of course prevent infection.
Why Telehealth Is Important
The Coronavirus, based on the current mortality rates, is unlikely to affect younger generations. In fact many could suffer mild symptoms and in some cases could be asymptomatic. Research is understandably limited at this stage but we know that those at high risk are:
- Older People
- People with underlying health conditions (respiratory, heart disease etc.)
- Medical Staff and Workers
As declared by the EU in recent studies, there is a serious concern that 4 – 17 (more than half) EU countries would be at high risk of full capacity in their intensive care units due to the Coronavirus. This is based on scenarios such as China and the Italian Lombardy region, which has recorded 18 cases per 100,000.
If the scenario was to get as bad as Hubei province which experienced 100 hospitalised patients per 100,000 people. This would put all 28 countries at risk of being over capacity based on the current numbers. These numbers, are likely to have changed by now but we’re still awaiting the latest figures.
First Derm: Your Telehealth Skin Care Solution
For us, telehealth is everything and it’s most certainly the future. Our focus is online dermatology and you can speak to our board certified dermatologists any time. All you need to do is send in an image and they’ll provide an answer within hours.
If thats not good enough then not to worry… We believe in the online future of healthcare so much that we have gone beyond your standard Telehealth service. We have developed artificial intelligence using our huge library of skin diseases. This means you can simply send in an image of your skin and we’ll provide instant results with 80% accuracy. Try our AI for free today!
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Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence.