Since Covid-19 struck, many unprecedented things have happened globally. For instance, many people found themselves attending meetings in pajamas. And teleconferencing has become a sensation. Another exciting aspect of life during the pandemic was social distancing.

Suddenly, healthcare professionals were inaccessible in person and “telemedicine” and “telehealth” became widely-used buzzwords.

But just because a word is suddenly the hot new topic doesn’t mean it’s always easily understood. If you’re looking to find out more about remote healthcare before you try it on for size, read on to find out more.

What is telehealth?

The term telehealth may seem more complicated than it is. The medical profession is often known for its complicated jargon, but telehealth simply means the delivery of healthcare services over a distance. 

Tele- means “far off,” so it is not a coincidence that telehealth became popular during the pandemic. The technology enables your doctor to attend to your health while maintaining a healthy distance.

Some people might refer to telehealth as telemedicine, and this is perfectly fine as the industry uses telehealth and telemedicine interchangeably. 

Telecommunication technologies such as mobile phones help to link doctors and patients. This connection could be real-time or asynchronous. An asynchronous telehealth service delivery refers to a doctor-patient session that does not happen in real-time. For example, you could record a message and send it to the doctor who attends to it later.

Another telehealth technique entails monitoring a patient remotely. This approach does not necessarily need ICT equipment. You might take your body weight measurements or ECG and send them to your physician to follow up on your health status.

In this era of smartphones, a substantial number of people have grown comfortable with using mobile applications to accomplish just about anything. Instead of placing a traditional call to the doctor, you could log into a video app and chat in real-time. 

Additionally, there are telehealth apps that perform specialized functions, such as monitoring blood pressure. The apps then share real-time data with healthcare providers for immediate feedback.

How do telehealth apps work?

Deloitte predicted in 2020 that telehealth services would reach a significant milestone in 2021 with 5% of visits to the doctor globally predicted to happen via virtual video. The achievement is possible as usage of smartphones is reaching critical mass. More remarkable is that the smartphone app ecosystem is now central to human life. 

Telemedicine apps work in a way that mirrors an actual visit to the doctor. The doctor and patient can undertake real-time consultations, medical prescriptions, and more. A doctor can also perform follow-up medical control through an app.

An ideal telehealth app provides three critical functionalities. First, it enables the doctor to examine the conditions of a patient’s body in an interactive manner. This means the apps have video, photo, and audio functionality to facilitate interactive examination. 

Some apps include digital stethoscopes to examine the heart and lungs. Also, the apps can communicate with wearable glucometers and other devices to monitor body vitals. Once they capture the data, the apps relay the information to designated medical staff in real-time.  The data can help medical professionals to provide an on-the-spot diagnosis that is close to accurate.

The second functionality that telehealth apps have is the capability to support the testing of patient samples. It does not have to be direct support. For example, the app could help with the logistics of delivery and returning the testing kit. Also, the app could interface a medical lab with your doctor.

Third, telehealth apps improve access to care. Interfacing the different sectors (i.e., a physician with a medical lab or other physicians) injects efficiency into the process. An efficient healthcare delivery process improves the patient’s experience. Not only that, the efficiency helps to cut costs and introduce a bunch of other crucial benefits.

How TeleHealth Apps are Changing Healthcare

Telehealth is upending global healthcare. The biggest driver of this trend is telemedicine apps. Why now?

You don’t need to know much to know that most Americans are glued to their smartphones and other gadgets throughout much of our working days, and then some. As our lives increasingly grow busier, little time remains for visits to the doctor, which is another issue telemedicine could solve.

At the same time, there is a proliferation of smartphone-connected devices, such as the Apple Watch, that monitor the condition of the bodies of their owners. As such, there is a natural convergence towards reliance on remote patient monitoring (RPM).

More people find it convenient to consult via video chat than making the actual trip to the hospital. People are making hospital visits only as a necessity. If you look at this trend carefully, you will notice that smartphone apps are the catalyst of the tendency toward telehealth.

Telehealth apps are conquering distance by incorporating cutting-edge technology, such as high-resolution cameras and the ability to interface with a myriad of wearable devices.

TeleHealth Apps Make Healthcare More Accessible

Cost is one of the biggest hurdles impeding access to healthcare services for many people globally. Therefore, anything that makes healthcare affordable certainly increases access to medical care.

Telehealth apps bring the doctor closer to you while saving transport and consultation costs. Virtual care also makes it possible for people with mobility problems to enjoy fulfilled lives at no extra cost.

TeleHealth Apps Can Reduce Healthcare Costs

Imagine someone who has lost the ability to accomplish the activities of daily living (ADL). These include things such as dressing themselves or going to the bathroom unaided. Such a person would need special transportation services to get to a healthcare provider for a simple routine checkup.

But a telemedicine app establishes a connection to the doctor in a matter of seconds. Interestingly, the apps can also book appointments and even pay for healthcare services with insurance.

Special mobility services? Cancel. High consultation charges? Cancel. This is and much more is what telehealth apps provide.

TeleHealth Apps Can Help Uninsured People Get Healthcare

The traditional healthcare service demands that you have an insurance policy before accessing even the simplest of services. However, the telehealth movement is disrupting this practice. 

During the pandemic, for instance, various telehealth service providers offered free healthcare to patients in need. 

Although telehealth apps support payment of healthcare with insurance, several providers support other arrangements. As such, uninsured people can receive critical treatment as long as they can pay the significantly lower costs.

How TeleHealth Apps are Helping Medical Providers

Medical providers are the most at-risk professionals. The medical providers face the danger of catching diseases from patients during every consultation session. The introduction of telehealth apps, therefore, creates a buffer of safety for these very crucial professionals.

The apps also come with convenience. Imagine a doctor being able to work from home because he/she can examine patients remotely. Also, the efficiency of the examination process makes the doctor’s work easier. 

Sometimes doctors need to travel to remote areas to reach patients with mobility difficulties. In such a case, remote examination and monitoring through telemedicine apps remove the need for the trip.

Pros and Cons of TeleMedicine

As with most things, there are both advantages and disadvantages to telemedicine.

Pros: 

  • It reduces the chance of spreading sickness by removing the need for physical contact.
  • Virtual visits to the doctor introduce convenience for both the doctor and the patient.
  • Accessing healthcare services without moving out of the home saves costs for patients.
  • Virtual care tools such as specialized telehealth apps shorten wait times and improve the experience of patients.

Cons:

  • Not all visits can happen remotely.
  • There is the issue of data privacy because patients have to trust third parties (especially the app developers) with their private information.
  • There is the possibility of a data breach.
  • Some telehealth services do not offer the full range of healthcare services.

Health Meets Tech: A New World

Today’s world is coalescing around technology. The coming of the 5G connectivity network enables an ecosystem of devices – known as the Internet of Things (IoT) – that should upend every sector of our lives. In this light, one can conclude that the disruption that is happening in the intersection between healthcare and technology.

Telehealth is just a taste of bigger things to come, which, hopefully, will bring more efficiency and accessibility to the global healthcare sector. 

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "How TeleHealth Apps are Changing Healthcare," in Medicalopedia, April 28, 2021, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/9705/how-telehealth-apps-are-changing-healthcare/].