Telehealth is an umbrella term encompassing not just telemedicine, which focuses on the professional curative aspect of healthcare, but also preventative healthcare, healthcare education and the many technological diagnostic and treatment options available.
Telemedicine refers to the exchange of medical information from one site to a personal electronic device. In simplest terms, a computer or cellphone can be a substitute for an in-person doctor’s appointment.
Pick your doctor from an Internet app. Transmit your vital signs and other diagnostic findings to your physician’s office via phone or web link. Use Skype to have a conversation with a specialist then have robotic surgery performed by a surgeon in another country. This is the brave new world of telehealth and telemedicine.
“An essential part of health informatics is telemedicine, the use of advanced telecommunications technologies to bridge distance and support health care delivery and education,” George Demiris wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
Healthcare kiosks and healthcare hotlines employ nurses to work in triage and customer service centers, where they answer healthcare questions and provide advice on handling everything from common colds to helping callers make informed decisions on larger healthcare issues.
In a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll, a telehealth software provider found that 82% of young adults ages 18-34 said that having a consultation with their physician on a mobile device is the best option for their lifestyle.
The latest innovations in telehealth include robotic tele-presence, which are machines that replicate a person in a distant location. They see, hear, talk and move around as if the healthcare provider was there. For chronically ill patients, people recovering from surgery or long-term hospital stays, this type of technology allows for the freedom to heal at home. It also allows the most isolated patients to consult with their physicians and nurses as if they were right in the office.
As telehealth continues to grow in popularity and availability, new avenues in the field of health informatics also open up: New programs and software must be developed; health information and records must be accessible everywhere from patients’ homes, doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and insurance companies; and physicians and nurses, office staffs and patients must be educated on how to access and use this new technology. Qualified informatics professionals will be needed to fill positions to advance the field.
But according to some experts, there are not enough health informatics professionals to keep up with the projected growth in the telehealth market.
A lack of qualified healthcare IT workers is the most significant challenge for many CIOs, according to a survey of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
Demand for medical informatics technicians is expected to significantly outpace job growth in other industries, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.