We’ve entered an age in which we can get anything online — including healthcare. Telehealth now makes it possible to provide and receive care from just about anywhere in the world, offering benefits such as increased safety, accessibility, convenience, and cost savings.
But what types of care, exactly, can telehealth be used for? With growing telehealth technologies, acceptance, and reimbursement policies, the answer may surprise you.
Here are 12 use cases for telehealth.
1. Wellness Visits and General Healthcare
One of the most common uses of telehealth consists of wellness visits and general preventive healthcare. By making it more convenient for patients to access routine care, telehealth enables healthcare providers to:
- Engage with patients proactively.
- Identify and address issues before they develop or spread.
- Provide a time and space for patients to ask questions.
- Counsel patients on their health behaviors.
- Determine if patients require chronic care management (CCM).
As a result, telehealth wellness visits can improve continuity of care and long-term care outcomes for patients.
Registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) can use telehealth nursing, or telenursing, to:
- Triage patients to determine whether in-person care is necessary and prioritize patient needs.
- Help patients self-manage chronic diseases and disabilities.
- Coordinate care during care transitions.
- Collaborate with a patient’s primary care provider and specialists to develop a plan of care.
- Assess care outcomes.
- Assist patients and their families in late stage and end-of-life care.
A lot of the benefits that telehealth provides to general care and nursing are relevant to orthopedics, as well. For example, orthopedic specialists and surgeons can rely on telehealth to:
- Review MRIs, X-rays, and lab results.
- Perform routine follow-ups and post-ops.
- Check wound healing.
- Monitor medication usage.
- Coordinate care with a patient’s primary care provider.
In surgical care, telemedicine is used primarily to perform pre- and post-op surgical consultations and provide remote monitoring of wound healing.
A 2018 systematic review assessed these surgery telehealth applications and the benefits that they provide. The authors of the review found that:
- Pre-op assessments provided via telehealth are accurate, prevent patients from having to visit the hospital, and reduce complications during surgery.
- Post-op wound checks via telehealth reduce the need for patients to travel to the hospital for in-person checks.
- Post-surgical follow-ups via telehealth are correlated with quicker adjustment to medications, better medication adherence, and lower systolic blood pressure.
Overall, the review concluded that telehealth benefits both providers and patients when used in surgical care.
5. Emergency Care
Telehealth has a couple of different applications in emergency care.
One option is to use telehealth to communicate with patients and/or the family members of patients who are waiting for an ambulance to arrive. In this case, providers can use telehealth to get a better picture of the issue and provide instructions.
Another option is to use telehealth in place of noncritical emergency room (ER) visits.
Many people visit the ER merely because their typical doctor’s office or clinic is not open when they need care or because they lack access to a provider in the first place. As a result, at least 30% of ER visits are not urgent.
Telehealth can give these patients the care they need without requiring them to visit the ER. In a study of about 1,500 senior citizens, telehealth was able to replace approximately one in every five emergency room visits.
Considering that the average telehealth visit costs just $40 to $50 and the average ER visit costs $922, telehealth can also provide significant cost savings here.
Like with other types of care, cardiologists can use telehealth to both prepare patients for surgeries and assess their progress post-surgery.
Advances in wearable devices and electronic devices make remote cardiac monitoring easier and more effective than ever. For example, cardiologists can use:
- Wearable devices that perform electrocardiograms (EKGs or ECGs) in real time using FDA-approved apps.
- Wearable devices that detect arrhythmia.
- Digital weight scales to monitor for heart failure.
- Remote implantable devices that monitor blood flow in patients with peripheral artery disease.
- Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuffs.
All of these devices can transmit data in real-time directly to the patient’s electronic health record (EHR), allowing cardiologists to review and determine whether any action is warranted.
Geriatric patients have a lot to gain from telehealth, including increased accessibility to care. It’s no secret that we become less mobile as we age. Telehealth ensures that mobility issues won’t prevent older adults from keeping their appointments, getting important prescriptions refilled, and generally receiving the care that they need.
Telehealth can also be used in geriatrics to:
- Connect patients in remote locations with specialists.
- Help patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
- Remotely monitor patients’ health using wearable devices.
- Help caregivers manage issues such as dementia at home.
- Reduce hospital and emergency room visits, where seniors could be exposed to diseases unnecessarily.
Ophthalmologists can use telehealth to:
- Triage symptoms and vision changes to determine whether an in-person visit is necessary.
- Diagnose issues such as styes, dry eye, red eye, allergic conjunctivitis, blepharitis, and subconjunctival hemorrhages.
- Provide regular screenings to monitor for diabetic retinopathy (DR), a leading cause of blindness in people with diabetes, via retinal cameras.
- Screen for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a leading cause of childhood blindness, in premature infants using remote imaging.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, ophthalmologists even used telehealth to guide patients through at-home vision tests. By printing out an eye chart and hanging it 10 feet away, patients are able to check their own vision.
More precise virtual vision tests, as well as remote fundus photography and tonometry, are currently being developed.
Dermatologists have long used telehealth, including both store-and-forward and live video methods, to provide care to patients.
Telehealth for dermatology, or teledermatology, first got its start in the 1990s as a way to treat patients in remote and underserved areas. To this day, teledermatology remains an effective way for those without convenient access to dermatologists to receive the care they need.
Dermatologists can use telehealth to:
- Examine skin, hair, and nail problems.
- Check suspicious spots on patients’ skin.
- Help patients manage chronic skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
- Prescribe medications for skin conditions.
Many digestive diseases — including chronic pancreatitis, hepatitis C, and Crohn’s disease — require frequent check-ins and follow-ups with gastroenterologists to ensure proper disease management. In order to make this care more convenient for patients, gastroenterologists can use telehealth to:
- Monitor digestive disease medication regimens and make adjustments as necessary.
- Provide ongoing dietary counseling and help manage complications.
- Review lab and imaging results with patients.
- Perform complete assessments of remote patients who lack convenient access to a gastroenterologist. A healthcare professional at a local facility uses digital imaging and a digital stethoscope to transmit data to the specialist.
Much like with other types of procedures, telehealth can also help gastroenterologists prepare patients for colonoscopies remotely.
11. Physical Therapy
A lot of a physical therapist’s work involves assessing how a patient moves and then recommending exercises. As such, physical therapists can use telehealth in the form of either store-and-forward video or live video to:
- Analyze patient movements.
- Prescribe exercises.
- Demonstrate how to perform those exercises.
- Ensure that the patient is performing the exercises correctly.
- Check in with patients regularly to assess progress.
A 2020 study has also revealed the success of virtual physical therapy programs that utilize digital simulations and 3D technology. In a review of 287 older adults who had just undergone total knee replacement surgery, those who used the virtual system were able to move more and were hospitalized less compared to those who did traditional physical therapy.
Telehealth for psychiatry, or telepsychiatry, can be used to provide services such as patient education; individual, group, and family therapy; psychiatric evaluations; and medication management in the following settings:
- Private practice
- Outpatient clinics
- Nursing homes
- Correctional facilities
- Military treatment facilities
Some people are hesitant to try telepsychiatry because they feel it may be uncomfortable to open up to someone who is not in the same room, but being in the comfort of their own home can actually increase patients’ sense of privacy, safety, and security.
Telepsychiatry may be preferable to in-person care for people with severe anxiety disorders, autism, or physical limitations, and has been shown to be particularly effective in treating ADHD, depression, and PTSD.
[Related: How to Choose the Best Telehealth Solution]
Start Offering Virtual Care
Whatever kind of care you practice, chances are that you could benefit from offering telehealth. And luckily, building your own telehealth platform has never been easier.
Bluestream Health makes it simple to integrate our secure APIs into your existing healthcare platform in as little as two weeks. That means your practice could be weeks away from providing patients with safer and more convenient care.
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