Finding accessible healthcare is a relentless problem in America. Though the United States spends the most money on healthcare in the world, a study done by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance found that nearly 45,000 deaths occur annually in our country due to lack of healthcare access. Over the last decade or so, a solution to this problem was presented. This solution is referred to as telemedicine, a subset of telehealth dedicated to providing people with healthcare over a physical barrier such as distance. All technology implemented in medicine is referred to as telehealth. Telehealth emerged around 1950, giving people the ability to use technology for medical purposes and healthcare services. Telehealth quickly expanded to include telemedicine, which consists of patient consultations through video conferences, e-health, monitoring of vital signs through mobile applications, etc. One health care company that has taken advantage of the efficacy of telemedicine is Kaiser Permanente.
In 2016, Kaiser Permanente had served more patients via virtual telehealth than by in-person appointments. The CEO of Kaiser Permanente, Bernard J. Tyson, explains, “Because we were all-knowing, we built the entire healthcare industry where everyone has to come to us, but now we are reversing the theory where people have to come to us for everything, so we’ve invested billions in our technology platform.” Kaiser Permanente is just one of many health care companies that have implemented telemedicine. Telemedicine has improved vastly, allowing patients to access health services without having to leave their homes or take time off of their busy schedules to visit their doctors.
So far, telemedicine has primarily been used for remote patient monitoring, allowing health data collected in one location to be sent electronically to other healthcare providers in different locations, which has an overall effect of reducing readmission rates. In addition, it has been used to educate patients by giving them better access to their health data from daily care and monitoring. This way, patients are more aware of their conditions and are more motivated to take care of themselves. Telemedicine has also benefited the elderly and bed-ridden; physicians are increasingly able to care for these patients without requiring them to leave the comfort of their homes.
Due to the recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the utilization of telemedicine has increased greatly. Many doctor-patient relationships have been minimized to over-the-phone appointments to maintain social distancing. Because non-essential services have been shut down and, for the most part, a stay-in-place order has been established, telemedicine is continuously expanding to give residents access to health care without having to visit the hospital to relieve stress on medical workers. With access to telehealth, care providers are able to expedite care and limit exposure by connecting patients to doctors via smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. Symptom trackers and chatboxes interact with patients by assessing their current status, performing triage, and providing them with support accordingly. This type of home monitoring is a significant form of telemedicine that plays a vital role in the current pandemic. As more advancements are being made in telemedicine, the telehealth operation can help reduce the severity of the pandemic.