Introduction to Telehealth

Telehealth, as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is,  “The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support remote clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” Telehealth enables collaboration of healthcare professionals to provide healthcare services across a variety of settings and distances.

Telemedicine usage ranges from synchronous video chat between a patient and a doctor, to conferencing between doctors, to conferencing between doctors and allied health professionals (e.g., nutritionists, physical therapists), to providing live or recorded presentations to groups of patients who are geographically separated. But telehealth, currently being used worldwide, still faces challenges. The primary obstacle to widespread adoption of telemedicine is provider reimbursement. Currently, each episode of care is monetized; the more visits the higher the cost. The accountable care organization (ACO) model as illustrated in the Affordable Care Act incentivizes providers to see patients in a number of convenient ways (e.g., in person or via email, SMS, TXT, video chat, or data transfer). Alternative communication methods can be helpful for both parties in terms of time, convenience, and care access.

Telehealth privacy and security are governed by HIPAA and HITECH.  Just as patients are protected in encounters within the walls of a health facility, so they are in remote telehealth sessions.