Telehealth Can Make Caregiving More Manageable

Overview

Published: 08/17/2012

by Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Photos

If the first thing you imagine when you hear the word “telehealth” is someone sending healing interventions through mental telepathy, you can rest easy. Telehealth is a sound, evidence-based practice that has gained momentum over the years due to challenges in delivering health care to isolated populations. Moreover, telehealth can make a crucial difference in the lives of caregivers because it helps them manage their loved ones’ care more effectively.

 

What is Telehealth?

 

In essence, telehealth is the delivery of health care, which can include health information and education, through the use of technology. For instance, telehealth could include any of the following:

 

  • A doctor/patient appointment that occurs over a live webcam, with the doctor in his or her office and the patient at home
  • A patient and/or caregiver completing a doctor-recommended online workshop on disease management skills instead of receiving the workshop in person
  • A teleconference between physicians to discuss a complicated case and decide on a course of treatment
  • A home monitoring system that relays health status information from the patient’s home to the doctor’s office
  • A nursing call center staffed by licensed nurses who can offer guidance over the phone

 

The term “telehealth” is often used interchangeably with “telemedicine,” although the American Telemedicine Association considers telehealth a broader term. The Association defines telemedicine as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients’ health status.” In contrast, telehealth also includes health education and other non-clinical services.

 

Who Uses Telehealth?

 

Obviously, where telehealth is delivered depends on the level and kinds of technology available in a particular geographic area. But telehealth has been increasing in popularity as a way to deliver preventive medicine as well as manage chronic medical conditions. Many rural health clinics have embraced telehealth as a way to reach their most isolated patients because monitoring and regular communication can be accomplished from a distance.

 

Does Telehealth Really Work?

 

Recent research is encouraging. For instance, a study that appeared in The Gerontologist in 2012 focused on how well telehealth interventions worked for homebound elders with heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  They found that those who received a variety of telehealth interventions showed greater increases in general health and social functioning than those who received traditional care. Also, the group that did not receive any telehealth interventions made significantly more trips to the emergency room than the telehealth group. The researchers suggested that telehealth could be a valuable option for older adults who cannot make it to regular medical appointments due to transportation limitations, disability, or isolation.

 

How Do I Find Telehealth?

 

If you are in a situation that makes it difficult to get your family member to the doctor, telehealth could be a great option for you. Telehealth is not a separate medical specialty, so any doctor may be able to provide telehealth if the technology is available. Start by asking your loved one’s current medical team if any services could be provided from a distance. Another option is to contact your county health department – several rural departments have received grants to implement telehealth services. Finally, if your loved one is a veteran, contact your local VA health center to see if any telehealth services are offered through its clinic or a nearby VA hospital.

 

Source:

 

Gellis, Z. D., Kenaley, B., McGinty, J., Bardelli, E., Davitt, J., & Ten Have, T. (2012). Outcomes of a telehealth intervention for homebound older adults with heart or chronic respiratory failure: A randomized controlled trial. The Gerontologist, 52(4), 541-552.