Can Telehealth Help Doctors Overcome Societal Barriers to Care?

telehealth overcoming societal barriers to care

As telehealth deployment continues to rise, additional — perhaps unexpected — benefits are beginning to surface for both patients and providers. Namely, the ability for secure video and texting (SMS) services to overcome certain societal barriers to care.

For example, in 2014 the University of California, San Diego conducted a study that enabled 12- to 20-year-old chronic care patients to use a texting program to manage their own healthcare.

The problem the study sought to address? As adolescents transition to young adulthood, they are more likely to forego consistent check-ins and avoid proactively contacting a physician at the first sign of a potential problem. So, what did the results of the study reveal? When the adolescents had the option to directly text their primary physicians, they were more likely to request help at the first sign of a problem and were enabled to better manage their care into adulthood, which improved their overall health outcomes.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Jeannie Huang, told Reuters Health: “Mobile technology is a great way [to reach people who don’t come into the clinic] because it’s meeting teens in their own space … Kids want to fit in. Oftentimes they don’t want to bother people. They often come into the hospital very sick. If they tell me early, we can keep them out of the hospital.”

With these results in mind, it’s not a stretch to think that — through a secure texting program — teens might also feel more empowered to discuss the potentially uncomfortable topics of sexual health and drug and alcohol use with their doctors earlier on and with more transparency. By opening up a private setting in which younger patients feel more at ease, telehealth services could hold the potential to move adolescent care of all types from reactive to proactive.

Related: Easily Enable Virtual Care & Telehealth Deployments

However, these benefits aren’t just related to societal barriers of age. Recently, a local Cape Cod newspaper documented how telehealth services are enabling the use of translation services from anywhere in the country to improve care for patients of various cultural backgrounds.

In the article, Karen Gardner, the chief executive officer of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod, noted that while the organization has a handful of on-site interpreters as well as a phone interpreter program, they were often preoccupied attending to other duties in the facility and weren’t always available to help patients immediately. Additionally, health information that was translated over the phone was at risk of getting lost or miscommunicated in the process.

Alternatively, with the help of video telemedicine services, Gardner noted that remote interpreters are available almost instantly for every language. Patients are also typically more willing to reveal information through this type of engagement as they’re generally more comfortable speaking in their native language and nothing is lost in translation through the use of visuals.

In a similar way, telehealth has been breaking down the barriers of geography for some time — bringing locally unavailable services to both rural communities and countries on the other side of the world. For example, following the devastating 2014 floods in Kashmir, India, the U.S.-based non-profit Kashmiri Overseas Association was able to provide free medical Skype-support to help prevent any deadly water-borne pandemics.

Throughout all of these examples, one notion is clear: the benefits of telehealth have far more reaching implications than one might think, and technology has the potential to overcome various societal barriers — from age to language to geography.

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