Telemedicine: How Technology Brings Therapy Home

COVID-19 changed the way health care providers care for patients. Many providers moved to telemedicine in order to still see their patients while protecting them from the virus. Telemedicine is a perfect way to safely and securely talk with your doctor about your healthcare needs. Accessing mental health services through a smartphone, tablet, or computer is easy.

What Is It?

The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article in 1995 discussing telemedicine. According to the article:

Telemedicine can be broadly defined as the use of telecommunications technologies to provide medical information and services. Although this definition includes medical uses of the telephone, facsimile, and distance education, telemedicine is increasingly being used as shorthand for remote electronic clinical consultation. Interest in the field has increased dramatically in the 1990s. State and federal allocations for telemedicine and related technologies are likely to exceed $100 million in fiscal 1994-1995. At least 13 federal agencies, including the US Department of Commerce, Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), Office of Rural Health Policy, and US Department of Defense, have begun telemedicine research and demonstration programs. Many states are using their own resources to build state-of-the-art telemedicine systems, some with capital investments exceeding $50 million.

Telemedicine technology is not new, but its widespread use is. There are two forms of telemedicine that allow patients and healthcare providers to connect: synchronous and asynchronous.

  • Synchronous includes real-time telephone or live audio-video. These conversations occur through secure apps downloaded to the patient’s smartphone, tablet, or computer. The patient is told by the healthcare provider, which app they will use and to download it. The app provides information on how the service works and how it ensures the user’s privacy.

  • Asynchronous includes technology like patient portals. Patient portals allow patients and healthcare providers to leave messages about appointments, questions about care, prescription refills, and concerns through secure messaging. Nurses review the message, respond to it, or pass it along to a nurse practitioner or doctor when necessary.

An article in the Medical Science Monitor traces the root of telemedicine’s use, noting:

The development of telemedicine systems began as a means of providing access to health care resources for individuals living in isolated rural areas, grew into advanced medical intervention techniques for soldiers on the battlefield, and have become prevalent in urban medical centers both as a resource to the underserved populations and as a platform for physicians off-site to conduct patient consults remotely.

Telemedicine apps are readily available. Patients can access the apps through an app store or website. Healthcare providers will inform patients of their preferred telemedicine app. Healthcare systems widely use telemedicine programs without security issues. Telemedicine appointments and providers adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines. In-patient and telemedicine appointments are safe and secure.

What Is a Telemedicine Visit Like?

Challenges to using telemedicine vary among generations. Many people cite being uncomfortable using an app to “visit” with their doctor. Medical appointments through video-conferencing or an app can sound impersonal. Patients who are uncomfortable with the idea of talking with their doctor through a smartphone, tablet, or computer may worry that they won’t have the same quality of care or privacy as they have when they see their doctor in the office. However, telemedicine appointments are thorough and safe.

A telemedicine visit is similar to a visit with your doctor. The doctor calls the patient or invites the patient into the appointment through a video-conferencing app. In some cases, the patient initiates the meeting at the scheduled time. The visit begins with the usual pleasantries, identity check, a review of the patient’s health, a discussion of current health issues, questions, concerns, medication refills, and follow-up care. The visit is easy and done anywhere the patient feels comfortable.

The Goals of Telemedicine

The following are some of the goals of telemedicine:

Benefits of Telemedicine

Telemedicine services can:

  • Provide access to mental and behavioral providers for appointments and medication management

  • Provide coaching and support for those in active or post-active treatment

  • Engage in case management for those who have difficulties accessing care

In the book, Introduction to Telemedicine, the authors state, “In rural and sparsely populated countries, telemedicine can be a vital and life-saving link to health care, and in those regions where demands on hospitals are ever-increasing, it can provide a safe and comfortable alternative to hospital-based therapy.” Telemedicine’s popularity extends beyond the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

People have the opportunity to access mental health, alcohol, and substance abuse services regardless of where they are. As stated previously, telemedicine provides access to medical and mental health services to those in remote or rural areas. The fact that it is used to benefit military members is another positive aspect of telemedicine.

Safeguards for Telemedicine Services

Providers understand individual federal and state regulations, expiration dates, mandates, and directives. Providers also take these steps to ensure telemedicine services are secure:

  • Monitor for updated rules for healthcare systems and providers

  • Healthcare systems that provide services in multiple states remain vigilant to each state’s requirements

  • Healthcare staff is trained in every aspect of patient privacy and HIPAA laws

Medical and mental health providers’ attention to the regulations and laws surrounding patient safety and privacy further ensures the patient’s privacy will be maintained.

The technology surrounding telemedicine is not new. Utilizing telemedicine to reach those who live in rural areas, including states like Alaska. The military uses telemedicine so soldiers and their families can access healthcare. The regulations and laws protecting patients’ information are vast and constantly being updated in order to reflect current technology. Hospitals, medical centers, and treatment centers are vigilant in providing safe access to telemedicine services. The investment in safe technology is important to those who use telemedicine. Telemedicine is a safe way to keep in touch with your therapist. Downloading an app strengthens the connection to your therapist in times of need, as it provides a more immediate way to access help. If you have any questions or want to know how telemedicine can benefit you in therapy sessions, we are here to help you. To learn more about how we can help, contact SokyaHealth today at 866-932-1767.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.