The Internet has transformed modern life, even more so with the appearance of COVID-19 and reducing staff exposure to ill persons. Tele health is the use of digital information and communication technologies such as computers and mobile devices to access health care services remotely.
With the onset of COVID-19, doctors have harnessed this technology to provide virtual appointments via Telehealth with patients rather than face to face visits when able. These visits enable the patient to see the doctor or nurse via online videoconferencing. These services are generally for minor illnesses, similar to the services available at a drop-in clinic, but with the onset of COVID, are being used more often as the initial triage visit for many patient complaints. Recent policy changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced barriers to telehealth access and have promoted the use of telehealth as a way to deliver acute, chronic, primary, and specialty care.
The advantages of the technologies available to the patient as well as health care team to monitor patients health is ever expanding:
- Web-based or mobile apps for uploading information, such as blood glucose readings, to your doctor or health care team
- Devices that measure and wirelessly transmit information, such as blood pressure, blood glucose or lung function
- Wearable devices that automatically record and transmit information, such as heart rate, blood glucose, gait, posture control, tremors, physical activity or sleep patterns
- Home monitoring devices for older people or people with dementia that detect changes in normal activities such as falls
According to the CDC, Insurance payers and HCP professional associations have supported the transition to telehealth services during the pandemic. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued multiple waivers providing flexibility (e.g., geographic location, type of health site) during the pandemic and granting payment parity between telehealth and in-person clinical care for Medicare. Medicaid programs are administered at the state level and states can choose whether or not to cover telehealth services as an alternative to traditional in-person methods of care.
However, there are limitations to using Telehealth. While it has the potential for better-coordinated care, it also runs the risk of fragmenting health care. This can lead to gaps in care, overuse of medical care, or overlapping care. There also exist issues of limited internet availability for some segments of the population or by regional internet availability.
If Telehealth visits are to become the new normal, the availability and access must be made equal for all segments of the population as well as improving internet services and accessibility for all.
Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic