How Telehealth is Shaping the Future of Medicine

How Telehealth is Shaping the Future of Medicine

One of the ironies faced by doctorswho treat genital herpes is the fact that although prescription drugs can shrink the healing time from two to three weeks down to as little as five to six days, patients suffering from the disease often lengthen their time of suffering by putting off an office visit. Rather than seek diagnosis and treatment at the onset of symptoms, they suffer in silence because they are embarrassed to meet face to face with the doctor. But thanks to Telehealth, shy STD patients can attack the problem head on.

What is Telehealth?

Anyone living in rural areas underserved by medical practitioners may already be familiar with the benefits of telehealth, although they may know it as telemedicine. Whereas telemedicine refers to the use of technology to remotely diagnose and manage medical conditions, the current term telehealth broadens the field to include counseling, home health, occupational and physical therapy, disaster relief, chronic disease management, and even dentistry. The Federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines it as

the use of electronic information and communications technologies to support long distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.

Why Telehealth?

Telehealth holds great promise for virtually everyone, whether they work in healthcare or receive it. Proponents like the Mayo Clinic say that it

  • makes services more accessible for patients with limited mobility, time, or transportation.
  • grants convenient access to specialists
  • improves coordination of care between specialists, primary physicians, caregivers, and patient.
  • provides support to patients self-managing their care.

How Does Telehealth Work

The world of telehealth embraces four modalities that can be viewed as building blocks

Live Video

The use of realtime video means physicians and healthcare teams can exchange or dispense information, and patients and caretakers can have have all their questions answered face-to-face without a major disruption of anyone's schedule

Store and Forward Technology

Store and forward uses secure electronic communications systems to transmit medical records, x-rays, and photos to providers or specialists so they can evaluate a case, prescribe a service, or write a prescription. Store and forward involves no face-to-face communication. It only involves data that has already been sent.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)

Remote patient monitoring makes use of a combination of electronic communications technology and data processing to collect personal health and medical data from a patient in one location and transmit it to a healthcare provider in another location. Providers can then use this constantly updated data to track a patient's recovery. Especially useful after release from a hospital, RPM can provide continuing care and support without the individual's having to physically visit the office.

Mobile Health

Mobile health applications use cellphones, tablets, laptops, or desktops. These range from one-way apps that send direct-target text messages, emails, or recorded messages reminding patients that they need to schedule a flu shot or dental appointment to self-care apps that that allow patients to record symptoms or monitor readings so they can manage their own healthcare while physicians monitor their progress remotely

Patient Portals, Privacy, and Confidentiality

Telehealth patient portals provide patients with round-the-clock accessibility to care, while providing privacy in which to do so. This especially appeals to individuals who suspect they have contracted a STD like gonorrhea, genital warts, chlamydia, or human papillomavirus (HPV), but hesitate to schedule an appointment due to shame. Putting off an examination in this type of situation is counterproductive since the sooner treatment is started, the sooner the healing.

Take herpes as an example. Starting medication within 12 to 24 hours of an outbreak will not only minimize its severity, but actually shorten the time it takes for sores to heal. With this in mind, Herpalert, a telehealth application can be the answer for anyone who suspects he has been infected with herpes simplex virus 1 or 2 (HSV1 or HSV2) but is either unable, or too embarrassed to visit a doctor. Using Herpalert, she can take a picture of the sores around her mouth or genitals, upload them and fill out a questionnaire. On-call physicians will review the photos, make a diagnosis, and if it is positive, send a prescription to the pharmacy specified in the questionnaire. In some cases medication can be picked up in as little as two hours.

Herpalert is a prime example of the liberating power of telehealth. The company behind it is HIPAA compliant and employs physicians who have not only demonstrated experience in diagnosing and treating HSV1 and HSV2 cases, but made a commitment to confidentiality.