Thankful for Telehealth

Personal stories of thankfulness for telehealth The leaves are changing colors, football season is in full swing and pumpkin-flavored treats are taking over the shelves — all signs that Thanksgiving is upon us. During this season of gratitude, it’s easy to be thankful for things like family, close friends and an extra serving of turkey. But what about the technologies that are giving more people greater access to healthcare and a better quality of life?

Here are three examples that show how telehealth is changing the face of healthcare, and enabling people and communities around the world to get the treatment they need and deserve.

1) Teleconferencing counseling sessions provide traumatized students with mental health services after devastating natural disasters.

It’s been 11 years since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast in August 2005, taking the lives of 1,833 people and forcing more than 1 million survivors to flee their homes. According to research from Save the Children, “More than 5,000 cases of missing children were reported separated from their families after Katrina, many for weeks, and some for months.” Soon after, Hurricane Rita struck in September 2005, and then Hurricane Ike in September 2008. It’s no surprise that many children are still grappling with serious emotional and developmental repercussions today. That’s what inspired the University of Texas Medical Branch to establish a school-based telehealth program to increase access to mental health services for disadvantaged youth.

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The program set up mental health clinics in nine middle schools and high schools in four districts in Galveston, Texas, providing 3,247 young people, as well as their parents, with access to mental health clinicians at the university through videoconferencing. Following the six-year project, parents and guardians were asked to fill out a survey. The report revealed that for many students, the teleconferencing counseling sessions were their first consultations with a mental health professional since 60 percent of participants did not have health insurance. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of parents and guardians said the sessions helped their children perform better in school.

2) Primary care physicians can send images of their patients’ skin problems and medical histories to a dermatologist for a complete diagnosis and treatment plan.

The dermatology field also has a lot to gain from the rising deployment of telehealth services. If a patient ever spots a worrying mole or skin condition, he or she (or the primary physician) can simply take a photo of the suspicious area and send it to the dermatologist over a secure server for further inspection. The dermatologist can then review the images, diagnose the problem and draw up a treatment plan, or determine whether it’s necessary for the patient to come in for an in-person examination.

This form of remote consultation is known as teledermatology, and was originally designed as a way to provide dermatology screenings for people who live in rural areas and don’t have access to specialists or a clinic. Nowadays, however, teledermatology is being used in urban settings as well because of its convenience. Instead of having to wait three weeks to get an appointment, patients can get almost instantaneous feedback. Dermatologists also benefit from teledermatology, allowing them to spend more time on patients who actually need to be seen in-person versus cases that turn out to be just a common skin rash that can be easily treated at home.

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The sheer number of patients that dermatologists are able to treat has skyrocketed, thanks to teledermatology. Kaiser Permanente dermatologists in San Diego can handle 800 cases per month, 50 percent more than if they relied on face-to-face visits alone.

3) Wall-mounted cameras allow tele-ICU staff to serve as a second set of eyes for on-site physicians and nurses.

Telehealth technology is revolutionizing intensive care units across the nation too. Physicians and nurses alike are under a great deal of pressure to treat several patients at once, juggling dozens of tasks and dealing with a horde of distractions that could cause them to forget a medication dose or miss a sudden change in blood pressure. Take into account the severe shortage of intensivists in the United States, as well as the aging population, and the situation becomes even graver.

Fortunately, tele-ICU programs are finally starting to gain the attention they deserve. The tele-ICU serves as a second set of eyes to intensive care units. Nurses and physicians located at an off-site command center can remotely monitor patients through one- or two-way video cameras, video monitors, speakers and microphones, and can easily and quickly teleconference in if needed. The team located in this remote central hub can observe vital signs and lab results more closely to assist physicians and nurses that are on-site with patients in real time.

And most patients are more than satisfied with the quality of care they receive remotely. Phoenix resident Kristopher Lee Taylor checked into Banner Estrella Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening diabetic reaction. Taylor was treated remotely by a doctor based in Tel Aviv, Israel, via a two-way camera installed in the patient’s room. Despite the fact that he was located half a world away, Taylor insisted that his remote physician provided better care than the hospital staff.

As telehealth technology continues to improve, physicians and healthcare professionals around the world can extend their reach and treat more people, whether they’re located in a small village in India or an urban city like San Diego — and that’s something to be thankful for.

Read More: Why Continuing Communication Matters →


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