Did you know that the number of telehealth encounters increased up to 20 times during the pandemic? The number of telehealth encounters leaped from 10,000 to an estimated 14,000 to 230,000, according to Dr. Chad Ellimoottil, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
The staggering statistic indicates a telehealth revolution that has encouraged incorporating health and technology, even after the pandemic. The growing presence of the subject demands an evaluation of potential benefits or harms. Although I am by no means an expert on the subject, everyone should understand the primary effects telehealth will have on care.
Let’s be clear; telehealth is the ultimate integration of healthcare and technology, which takes forms in many ways, from e-consultations to remote monitoring to digital health records.
Every health sector has adopted telehealth, it seems. Routine health. Medical testing. Counseling. Our very own CEO, K. Todd Houston, wrote a book called “Telepractice in Speech-Language Pathology,” which you can find here.
Telehealth has terrific potential as it reaps the same benefits that remote work or school does:
- Convenience: In the comfort of wherever you are located, you can have a professional assess your problem in what seems like only a click away.
- Accessibility: Those in rural areas or disabled can be given quality care without needing to commute. No one has the excuse to be denied service based on geography or ability anymore.
- Affordability: Lower costs can be realized since overhead or physical expenses are cut out of the equation.
- Societal Costs/Savings: By essentially eliminating travel time to and from appointments, there is a reduction in transportation cost, less time away from home and work, and a limited need to hire childcare assistance while the parent(s) are at appointments.
You would believe that realizing these advantages would be a no-brainer, but there is an opposite reaction with any significant change.
- Income Loss: While there may be some societal cost savings with increased worker productivity and associated travel costs, there is speculation that hospitals will face a shortfall in their operating budget due to insurance companies and the government not factoring in all the additional overhead costs necessary to conduct telehealth visits.
- Lack of Face-To-Face: Nonverbal communication makes up more than 50% of your communication with another person. Telehealth makes face-to-face interaction hard or cuts out human contact entirely. If healthcare serves humans, it seems counterintuitive to cut them out.
Another factor to keep in mind is that the charges for telehealth can be drastically lower than the wages of healthcare workers. It’s great to hear that artificial intelligence and robots could perform routine diagnostics to free up valuable healthcare workers' time. Still, it’s worrying to learn that a robot may have the capacity to replace a worker if cost is the only variable.
The effects of telehealth are profound. We have to keep in mind how we can best use telehealth to our advantage while still mitigating the potential problems.
I hope that you will use this information to inform your decisions either as a practitioner or patient. After all, the more we can understand something, the better equipped we are at helping ourselves and others.
Connect, Communicate, and Collaborate. That is the 3C way.
This article is a summary and review of two pieces done by Freakonomics Podcast. The sources can be found here:
Photos by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash and Canvas
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