What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is a system used by healthcare professionals to provide patients with care from a remote location. It incorporates two-way video conferencing and advanced information communication technologies to provide examinations, treatments, clinical, education and administrative services. Currently, telehealth services are offered to more than 360 urban, rural and remote health care sites in the province of Ontario. In 2015, there were 89 distinct areas that required clinical services of which included cardiology, internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and therapy (occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech-language therapy).
How Are Telehealth Services Delivered?
There are many ways, but here are a few examples;
Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential phone service that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which allows you to speak to a Registered Nurse to ask questions and help you make decisions about your health. Questions can be about immediate health concerns, injury, illness and other health-related topics such as breastfeeding, mental health, nutrition and healthy living. Telehealth Ontario provides services in English and French, as well as translation support for many other languages as well.
Another example is the Sunnybrook Hospital Telemedicine program. Sunnybrook Hospital is located in North Central Toronto, however, through their Telemedicine program, they provide healthcare services to individuals living anywhere in Ontario. So how does it work? Patients are referred by their primary doctor for a specialty service, and an appointment is set up at their nearest healthcare centre that is registered with the Ontario Telemedicine Network. At the appointment, the local Telemedicine Coordinator will explain the process of the appointment and any equipment used. The patient will enter a consultation room and connect with a Sunnybrook specialist/service for their appointment through video technology. Depending on the type of appointment, patients may be required to change into a hospital gown and guided to use electronic diagnostic equipment (such as patient exam camera and digital stethoscopes) in order to be assessed as if they were at Sunnybrook in person. These appointments take place in private, secure rooms and the examination can only be seen and heard by those involved in the appointment. While in the consultation room, the patient will typically be accompanied by the Telemedicine Coordinator or the local health care provider. Through this program, a patient living anywhere in Ontario can have access to specialty medicine services such as burns, dermatology, drug safety, endocrinology , gastroenterology, geriatric neuropsychiatry, hematology, hepatology, neurology, orthopaedics, pain management, therapy services (occupational and physical) and rheumatology, which are all located at the Sunnybrook Hospital.
Home telemonitoring is another type of telehealth service. This type of telehealth provides a patient with easy-to-use equipment at home in order to track their vital signs. It allows the patient to catch early warning signs and can help prevent larger complications that require hospital stays. The technology also provides the patient’s doctor with the information, and this is important for ongoing care. This type of telehealth is widely used for cardiac monitoring in adults.
Individualized therapy services can also be provided by telehealth. Telehealth occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy are available for some patients at home, with the therapist leading the session from his or her office. Therapists may offer services by telehealth for productive aging, health and wellness, mental health, rehabilitation, disability and work industry.
How Does The Patient Benefit?
Here are some of the potential benefits for patients:
- Improved access to more healthcare specialists
- More convenient patient care; patients in rural or remote areas benefit from quicker and more convenient access to healthcare services (Did you know some people in Canada live more than 100km from the nearest doctor?)
- Patients receive healthcare services faster
- Telehealth services have been shown to reduce unnecessary non-urgent Emergency Room visits
- Cost-Effective: Get health care services at home without the expense of travel and hospital parking charges
The above examples provide several ways telehealth services are delivered. There are numerous other telehealth services offered as well. Ask you healthcare provider what services may be right for you.