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What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth is the use of communications technologies to provide health care from a distance. These technologies may include computers, cameras, videoconferencing, the Internet, and satellite and wireless communications. Some examples of telehealth include:

  • A "virtual visit" with a health care provider, through a phone call or video chat

  • Remote patient monitoring, which lets your provider check on you while you are at home. For example, you might wear a device that measures your heart rate and sends that information to your provider.

  • A surgeon using robotic technology to do surgery from a different location

  • Sensors that can alert caregivers if a person with dementia leaves the house

  • Sending your provider a message through your electronic health record (EHR)

  • Watching an online video that your provider sent you about how to use an inhaler

  • Getting an email, phone, or text reminder that it's time for a cancer screening

Telehealth and Addiction Treatment

Mental health and Telehealth harmonize well, allowing counselors to hold sessions virtually and telephonically rather than in person. Some addiction rehab facilities are leveraging behavioral Telehealth in the treatment of substance use disorders (SUD). Where in person treatment may not be accessible to some people because of disabilities, limited travel capability, and childcare issues, online or phone options give them an opportunity to get help while maintaining vital life activities like work or family care.

Seemingly minute services like text message appointment reminders reduce dropout rates in rehab programs. Clinicians can use these features not only to perform mundane yet important tasks like appointment reminders but also to further interact with their clients. Reaching out to support someone in their recovery efforts helps keep them accountable and on track; they otherwise may return to maladaptive behaviors that could lead to a return to substance use.

What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?

Sometimes people use the term telemedicine to mean the same thing as telehealth. Telehealth is a broader term. It includes telemedicine. But it also includes things like training for health care providers, health care administrative meetings, and services provided by pharmacists and social workers.

What are the benefits of telehealth?

Some of the benefits of telehealth include:

  • Getting care at home, especially for people who can't easily get to their providers' offices

  • Getting care from a specialist who is not close by

  • Getting care after office hours

  • More communication with your providers

  • Better communication and coordination between health care providers

  • More support for people who are managing their health conditions, especially chronic conditions such as diabetes

  • Lower cost, since virtual visits may be cheaper than in-person visits

What are the problems with telehealth?

Some of the problems with telehealth include:

  • If your virtual visit is with someone who is not your regular provider, he or she may not have all of your medical history

  • After a virtual visit, it may be up to you to coordinate your care with your regular provider

  • In some cases, the provider may not be able to make the right diagnosis without examining you in person. Or your provider may need you to come in for a lab test.

  • There may be problems with the technology, for example, if you lose the connection, there is a problem with the software, etc.

  • Some insurance companies may not cover telehealth visits

What types of care can I get using telehealth?

The types of care that you can get using telehealth may include:

  • General health care, like wellness visits

  • Prescriptions for medicine

  • Dermatology (skin care)

  • Eye exams

  • Nutrition counseling

  • Mental health counseling

  • Urgent care conditions, such as sinusitis, urinary tract infections, common rashes, etc.

For telehealth visits, just like with an in-person visit, it is important to be prepared and have good communication with the provider.

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