The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented change into our lives. From wearing masks, sanitizing our hands frequently, to the temperature checks that have become commonplace at every door, the coronavirus has forced many of us to reevaluate how we interact with those around us. From governments: this meant imposing restrictions on travel and enforcing even stricter rules on how restaurants and workspaces could run.
Yet, amidst all these changes, one remains overlooked: how healthcare services are provided in a pandemic. Hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, which are essential places to get COVID-19 tests, also became high-risk zones. After all, as some have argued, you might go in for a routine check-up and end up contracting the virus in the waiting room.
These factors, taken together, have contributed to the fast adoption of telehealth.
How Telehealth Works
Telehealth, also known as digital or virtual health care, involves delivering health services via remote technologies. Simply put: if you’ve heard of zoom doctors, you probably understand how telehealth works. Instead of going into a clinic for a consultation, telehealth makes it possible to call online doctors who can listen and diagnose you from hundreds of miles away.
While telehealth has been around for 30 years, it has gained increasing popularity with the COVID-19 crisis. It is unlikely that you’ll find surgeons switching to telehealth anytime soon, but most non-emergency conditions will be treatable after a consultation with an online doctor. Some of the conditions that can be addressed include:
- Insect bites
After diagnosing your condition, the doctor sends an e-prescription to your local pharmacy.
Digital Mental Health
It’s not only the routine physical check-ups that are changing. Even the psychologist’s approach has changed. Mental health has been forced to adapt to the current realities, and practitioners are now offering their services online. Mental health services have been crucial during the pandemic, with the loss of loved ones, jobs, and isolation directives increasing stress levels. Seeing clients over video has become the new normal for therapists.
Virtual mental health also has the advantage of simplicity. New patients who had not received mental health services before are finding the online option an excellent incentive to sign up for their first session. Professionals have also noticed that patients are more relaxed in their own space, making the sessions more effective.
Even in the mental health field, telehealth has been a long-standing option. However, it’s not till recently that insurance companies agreed to pay for teletherapy.
Accessing Telehealth Services
As technology becomes more accessible across the globe, telehealth services are easier to come by. The most popular way of interacting with medical practitioners is in real-time. This uses audio-video interactions through a smartphone, tablet, or computer. This can be done through zoom or any other dedicated video-conferencing platform.
Alternatively, there are patient portals that use ‘store and forward’ technology. In this case, secure messages are sent out, interpreted, and responded to later. Finally, there is remote patient monitoring that relies on wearable healthcare tech. In this way, a patient’s clinical measurements are transmitted from anywhere they are to their health care provider.
As telehealth becomes more popular, medical practitioners’ licensing procedures and standards will have to change as they work across different jurisdictions. Insurance companies will also need to come on board to ensure that telehealth services are covered under medical insurance. More doctors across various medical practices are adopting telehealth to offer more convenient diagnosis and medical follow-up services.
This is especially true for patients who don’t need to have a physical appointment to check on their health and treatment progress. What remains clear is that telehealth is the new face of medicine.