The easiest way to answer, “Why telehealth?” is to describe successful, real-life applications that I have experienced personally and professionally.
The School Girl
A school nurse working at a public elementary school noticed a young female student limping. She inquired with the child as to the reason for the limp and discovered a significant abscess on her foot. Upon inquiry with the parent, no medical care had been sought but he was agreeable for the child to be seen via telehealth from the school nurse’s clinic. The nurse secured a telehealth appointment with a local pediatrician who saw the child that very day. The physician stated the abscess was so advanced that if the treatment had not been sought, serious and debilitating outcomes would have been likely. Prescribed treatments were initiated with the nurse monitoring the progress and telehealth follow up appointments allowed for physician oversight. Treatment was successful and the child returned to normal activities. If not for a caring school nurse and telehealth, a child might have experienced tragic results. Similar such cases play out every school day across America and those fortunate enough to have school-based telehealth, many children are accessing healthcare in an efficient and effective manner. It is sad to realize how many children across America go lacking with regards to healthcare. Why? The reasons are numerous and are often related to socioeconomic factors and limited resources. Telehealth cannot solve all the problems of children living in less than optimal circumstances, but it can certainly address access to healthcare issues.
The Elderly Woman with a Brain Tumor
An elderly lady was referred to a medical specialty center in the state capitol located 200 miles north of her rural farming community. She was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and was instructed by the neurosurgeon at the medical center that surgery would be needed if the tumor grew larger. Over the following months, she was followed by her rural primary care provider (PCP). The tumor began to grow to create disturbing symptoms and it was clear that surgery was necessary. The lady was most unhappy with the prospects of traveling back to the distant medical center and rejected the pleas of her family & physician to make the trip. The local community hospital had recently implemented a telehealth program to improve access to specialty care, so her PCP arranged a telehealth visit with a neurosurgeon located at a medical center closer to home in a city 80 miles away. The initial visit went well, and the lady agreed to travel the 80 miles for treatment. Successful gamma knife surgery was performed and this life-changing procedure wouldn’t have happened if not for a progressive rural hospital willing to embrace technology for the good of its citizens, a small town PCP willing to “think outside the box” and a specialist willing to leverage telehealth for the good of rural citizens.
The Young Father unable to afford the high deductibles of his Health Plan
A young father had a 3-day old ankle wound after falling on a metal grate while volunteering at a children’s summer camp. By the time he arrived home on Saturday, the wound was inflamed and in need of medical attention. His options on that Saturday afternoon were limited – the local Emergency Room or an Urgent Care Center. Neither were good options for him because his tight budget would not allow for the out-of-pocket costs related to his high deductible insurance plan. After speaking to a family member, she suggested that he seek care with a physician via telehealth. He did just that and discovered that “Direct-to-Consumer” telehealth not only met his medical need in a matter of minutes but cost a fraction of what he would have had to pay for an ED or Urgent Care visit. To his surprise, he was seen by a Board-Certified Emergency Room Physician who looked at his wound, prescribed medications and instructed on how to properly bandage the wound. The experience and the outcomes were most positive. If not for telehealth, this man may not have sought treatment due to his inability to afford traditional Saturday-healthcare in-person options of Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Centers. This is yet another example that answers the question of “Why Telehealth?”
I am the first to say that telehealth is not the “end-all,” but I will say that it has its place in today’s everchanging healthcare landscape. I began my career in telehealth in 2006 and the relevance then & now is the same.
Telehealth enables providers the
ability to deliver healthcare.
Telehealth enables individuals to
As the above cases demonstrate, not everyone can easily access traditional healthcare. The next question to ask is “Who can and should benefit from telehealth?” All of us. There is a benefit to be had by all but the top priority for those of us in the business of telehealth should be the poor and underserved. Many across our land have limited access to healthcare due to geographic and/or socio-economic barriers. Telehealth can enable quality healthcare to be delivered in almost any setting and those of us involved in the industry should do all we can to leverage this great technology for the good of all.
Back to the original question “Why Telehealth?” Because it works, it improves access to healthcare and it is the right thing to do.