The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, causing disruptions, challenges and unknown situations. One technology that has been affected in a positive way, though, is telehealth (a term that’s broader than “telemedicine
"). The ability to meet with a doctor or specialist virtually is not new, but the push to make it readily available, secure, and easy to use went into high gear in March when non-emergency, in-person appointments were not happening. Through the Congress’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the FCC is working to promote extensive telehealth offerings in its three-wave rollout. Since April 16, the FCC has approved 17 applications funneling $9.5 million into healthcare providers to cover costs for internet-connected monitoring devices, broadband connectivity, and telecommunication devices.
The Definition of Telehealth
What do we mean by telehealth? If someone needs to see a doctor or nurse practitioner for something that doesn’t require large specialized equipment, they can do this virtually over phone or computer. For instance, if someone was on blood pressure medicine and needed a semi-annual checkup with their primary care physician, it isn’t necessary to go into the office if they have been keeping track and can report their blood pressure readings: They can simply call or conference their doctor to discuss any new symptoms, blood pressures, and general health. Or, a patient with poison ivy or a skin rash could conference with a dermatologist who can look at the affected area via a camera and can diagnose and prescribe without having to see them in person. It is faster and much easier especially when trying to maintain social distance and stay home.
For those with more complicated situations, the new world of wearable tech will help immeasurably. Sensors that can track real time heart rates, EKG, blood pressure, blood sugar, urine, and others connect directly to a smart phone or hub that transmits data to the cloud and then to the doctor's patient care system. The doctor will have the stats in front of them before the patient gets on the call and will be ready to start a conversation about how well they’re doing -- or what steps to take to improve. The power of real-time health monitoring and the doctor’s remote access to it provides fast and easy patient care. As telehealth and real time monitoring continue to become more prevalent, it will allow for another level of preventative care with at-risk patients.
Although some practices still stress the importance of face-to-face patient care, most will more than likely have virtual options in the near future. There are full telehealth platforms on the market such as Doxy.me, eVisit and SimpleVisit that offer a variety of pricing levels to access their docs for consultation. When choosing a service, it’s wise to do proper due diligence just as you would when looking for a primary care physician.
What about privacy?
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy regulations require health care providers and organizations, as well as their business associates, to develop and follow procedures that ensure the confidentiality of protected health information when it is transferred, received, handled, or shared. This applies to all forms of protected health informaton()including written, oral, electronic transmission, and so on. Any telehealth apps or software used must abide by HIPAA policies and procedures. On top of HIPAA, patients and users of these platforms will need to be educated regarding the use of strong passwords and secure home networks to protect their data further.
Telehealth isn't going to change the world all by itself, but it is going to be a big help for those living/aging in place. Wearables, sensors, and connected devices inside an integrated home with robust and up-to-date wired and wireless infrastructure will allow for the next level of home healthcare. Integrators will be there to make it all safe, secure, and reliable for the homeowner.
NOTE: This Emerging Trends piece is brought to you by CEDIA’s Technology Advisory Council and Technology Application & Innovation department.