In today’s age we have more access than ever before to virtual tools that help us manage our health care remotely and receive the medical services we need. Telehealth is the delivery and facilitation of health-related education and services via communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, so that we can consult medical professionals, refill prescriptions, understand test results, and more.
Telehealth is beneficial for both patients and medical providers in many ways. Some primary care clinics have online patient portals, which offer a more secure online tool to communicate with your doctor or nurse, schedule virtual appointments, track and update personal information such as blood pressure or blood glucose readings, and enable your doctor or health care team to monitor your health remotely. Doctors can also connect with specialists to get input when they have questions about patients’ diagnosis or treatment, access health records easily, and send reminders and results directly to patients.
In addition to making health care more accessible to people who live in rural or isolated communities, telehealth has proved beneficial for the elderly, as well as those with limited mobility, time or transportation options. During the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth is more important than ever to help maintain hospital capacity by keeping patients out of the waiting room and hospital beds, as well as enable social distancing by limiting exposure to others.
On March 17, 2020, President Trump announced an expansion of Medicare to cover telehealth services, which will enable Medicare patients to communicate with doctors by phone or video conference. Healthcare providers can also use applications such as Skype and FaceTime without being penalized by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the enforcement agency for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
Although HIPAA does not specifically prohibit the use of these different modalities, most providers were previously concerned that HIPAA safeguards and standards wouldn’t allow the use of unsecured audio and video communication with patients. While covered health care providers can start using these different communication technologies to communicate with patients, there are certain guidelines they must adhere to such as getting the consent of patients before using the technology, keeping the technology private, and the communication must be about the provision of telehealth. The enforcement discretion is also limited to the time that the coronavirus national public health emergency is in effect.
At Within, we offer a variety of telehealth services, which include facilitating virtual consultations with physicians who ensure that preventive health screens are appropriate and safe to patients. Doctors sign prescription forms electronically, which are sent to imaging center partners as patients’ radiology appointments are scheduled. Within also facilitates the result readouts when they’re available virtually to help patients better understand what their next steps are.
Health systems all over the world are recognizing telehealth as one of the most promising solutions to modern problems facing providers and patients, and continue to expand and implement more services and programs. Telehealth has the potential to improve the quality of health care and make it accessible to more people, as well as provide opportunities to make health care more efficient and improve patient outcomes.
For more information about Within, visit seewithin.co.