Telehealth is not necessarily a new field, but its scope is broader than it has ever been, and you may think that it is a good option for you. At the same time, you might have some doubts about whether you will get the same level of care. Luckily, we are here to explain the world of telehealth to you.
Telehealth in Connecticut is a growing field that offers a number of benefits including:
- Better access to health care for underserved populations
- More convenient ways to receive medical consultations
- Coverage by many major health insurances
Even though telehealth has been around for a while now, the industry is growing so quickly that there is a lot that people have yet to learn about the field. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become more important than ever before.
What Is Telehealth?
In many ways, telehealth is what its name sounds like—medical care through technology and virtual means. This is certainly a true description of telehealth, but there is so much more to the industry than people often realize.
Some people hear the word “telehealth” and think of the service as something you might use for a minor ailment over the weekend or when your primary doctor is unavailable. You may have even used one of these services before, talking to a doctor on the phone for things like a sinus infection or flu.
Telehealth does all of those things, but it is also a much broader category of health care. The overall principle of telehealth is connecting health care professionals and patients through technology in order to deliver health care.
While many of us have been told to stay away from searching online for what our symptoms mean, telehealth is distinctly different from merely accessing information about medical conditions. With telehealth, you receive actual medical care from a professional just like you would in a physical office.
What Types of Care Does Telehealth Offer?
Generally speaking, there are three ways that healthcare providers are able to offer telehealth services: synchronous, asynchronous, and remote monitoring. Any given telehealth provider may offer one or all types of technologies.
Telehealth usually involves connecting the patient and health care professional on a digital platform. The technology allows patients to have an official visit with their doctors without having to physically travel to an office.
Synchronous Telehealth Involves Real-Time Interaction
Synchronous telehealth is offered in real-time to facilitate live interactions between a patient and a health care professional.
This might be done through:
- Secure video platforms and calls
- Telephone calls (audio only)
- Use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, or computers
For some situations, a medical professional like a nurse might be present with the patient while the primary medical consultant is remote. Tools like digital stethoscopes and ultrasounds may be used to assist the remote provider.
In certain situations, health care providers might use medical equipment virtually to reduce the costs of traveling for consultations. A remote health professional might administer a digital scope that transmits video footage to the main health care provider.
Asynchronous Telehealth Uses “Store and Forward” Methods
Asynchronous telehealth typically consists of platforms that utilize “store and forward” data. This form of telehealth does not involve real-time interactions between the health care professional and the patient.
A common example of asynchronous telehealth services is the use of patient portals. Many hospitals and medical providers have started using online patient portals in recent years. Patients can sign on to their accounts and access:
- General health data, such as medical history
- Post-visit summaries
- Vaccination history
- Prescription information and refills
- Secure messaging with the health care provider
Many patient portals are also available through smartphone apps, making it even easier for patients to access their medical data when it is needed. Such portals are often used by large health care networks across multiple facilities under the same company.
The stored data and patient information can also be forwarded from one health care provider to another. This is helpful for situations where multiple care teams or departments need to evaluate a patient, especially when scans or test results are involved.
Remote Patient Monitoring Transmits Health Data to Health Care Providers
Remote patient monitoring also often includes the use of smartphone apps and other modern forms of technology. These methods are used to collect the health data of a patient before transmitting it to a health care provider.
Common examples of remote patient monitoring include:
- Wearable health devices: Trackers that collect data on a patient’s vitals, blood sugar levels, and heart patterns might be used. Smart watches are sometimes used in conjunction with medical trackers.
- Smartphone apps: There are apps that patients can download to track certain elements of their health. Apps might remind a patient to weigh themselves or to check their blood sugar levels.
How Does Telehealth Work?
Telehealth is very similar to what you would typically think of as medical care. Whether you have a minor ailment or simply need to complete your annual visit with your physician, you contact your provider to set up an appointment.
If your regular doctor’s office provides appointments both virtually and in the physical office, you likely can call the office to schedule an appointment. Let them know that you would like to have a virtual appointment instead of coming into the actual office.
Telehealth appointments are often scheduled directly through patient portals or other online platforms. If you have health insurance through your employer, you might even have access to a completely virtual telehealth provider.
Naturally, not all health issues can be treated through telehealth; your doctor might request that you go for a physical visit to conduct tests or do bloodwork. But in general, telehealth is a great way to do your routine health visits for maintenance.
Telehealth Services are Available in Connecticut
As in most areas of the United States, telehealth options are available in Connecticut. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Connecticut has greatly expanded the access to telehealth for its citizens.
While some of this expansion is certainly due to the need for hospitals and doctor’s office to limit the amount of people interacting with each other, many providers are seeing the long-term benefits of using telehealth.
Telehealth is not meant to replace traditional health care, but rather it is meant to supplement and triage traditional methods of medical care. Telehealth can reduce the workload of a physical office by only doing actual appointments for certain issues.
Does Insurance Cover Telehealth Visits and Treatment?
Although the specific amount of coverage will naturally vary from person to person, most health insurance companies will provide coverage for telehealth. Connecticut has parity laws that allow telehealth coverage by:
- Private health insurance companies: The exact scope of coverage will depend on the insurance provider, but Connecticut allows private insurance to cover telehealth services.
- Medicare: This federal program provides health coverage to people 65 and older or those who have a disability. It is not affected by income.
- Medicaid: This federal program operates at a state level to provide health coverage to those who fall into a very low income bracket.
To make sure that health care providers are receiving adequate compensation for telehealth services and to make sure that patients are able to afford telehealth, Connecticut has taken additional action during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure coverage.
Connecticut requires its Medicaid program to provide insurance coverage for telehealth services that:
- The commissioner deems as appropriate for telehealth methods
- Are considered cost-effective
- Will likely expand medical access to underserved groups
For more information on Connecticut Medicaid click here.
What Types of Telehealth Services Are Available in Connecticut?
Even prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that has greatly expanded the use and need of telehealth, many types of health services have been authorized in Connecticut. For instance, Connecticut law allows telehealth services to be provided by traditional licensed providers such as:
- Physicians and physician assistants
- Registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses
- Physical or occupational therapists
- Pharmacists and paramedics
Existing Connecticut law prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 also allows telehealth services to be offered by licensed professionals in behavioral health or social science fields such as:
- Marital and family therapists
- Alcohol and drug counselors
- Psychologists and professional counselors
- Social workers
Not every provider who is eligible under Connecticut law might actually offer telehealth services to patients. Some offices and practices are not properly equipped to support the platforms to carry out telehealth on.
One way to find a health care provider that does offer telehealth services in Connecticut is to contact your health insurance provider. Your health insurance provider will be able to give a list of health care providers who offer care through telehealth platforms.
Connecticut has expanded the types of providers who are allowed to offer telehealth services, but the current expansions are only effective through the middle of March 2021. This could change if the legislature opts to extend the expanded list of providers.
Current additions to the list of providers include art and music therapists, behavior analysts, and athletic trainers. All of the providers must be certified, licensed, or registered.
What Are the Benefits of Providing Access to Telehealth Services?
For many people, telehealth services are a much more convenient way to receive medical care. At the same time, many people find great value in having a physical visit with a healthcare professional. While both viewpoints are valid, there are definitely many benefits to accessing telehealth services.
These benefits are especially helpful during times of a global pandemic like COVID-19, but they are just as valuable in normal times. COVID-19 has simply rapidly increased the scope and use of telehealth services across the country’s health care networks.
Telehealth Provides Needed Access to the Underserved
Many communities struggle to provide adequate access to medical care for residents. Some areas do not have enough health care workers to keep up with the number of patients who need care. This can result in:
- Delayed care: In some places, patients have to wait months before they are able to get into a doctor’s office, leaving them vulnerable when they need medical care.
- Overwhelmed health care system: Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff can easily be burnt out by a system that is overburdened and underemployed.
- Unequal access for certain groups: Traditional medical offices often operate at times where people must take off work for an appointment, and there are many people who cannot afford to miss any work.
Since telehealth services allow providers to offer medical care to patients throughout a broader area, typically a whole state, people have more access to care options. With traditional medical services, patients are restricted to the local area they live in.
Connecticut laws allow authorized providers to offer health care services to patients across the whole state. Current expansions of existing laws that were issued in a response to the COVID-19 pandemic also allow for certain licensed providers outside of Connecticut to offer medical care to patients in the state.
Telehealth Provides Easier Paths to Treatment for Patients
Patients who live in more remote or rural areas might often find themselves struggling to see a medical professional. Traveling a long distance is not only more expensive, but it can also be incredibly inconvenient, especially in times of inclement weather.
Telehealth eliminates the need for patients to travel to their doctor’s appointments. This is particularly beneficial to patients who simply need a routine checkup and would be greatly inconvenienced by the need to travel to an office for a short visit.
Many patients who have a long route to the doctor’s office are reluctant to make appointments because their travel time often greatly outweighs the actual time that they are receiving medical care.
Patients who are reluctant to schedule medical appointments in a traditional setting can face negative effects such as:
- Undiagnosed illnesses that worsen over time and without treatment
- Poor health habits and overall care for well-being
- Lack of knowledge regarding what health care options are available to them
Telehealth is a much more convenient way for patients to access medical care, which in turn makes them more likely to seek out routine care. The appointment process is much less time-consuming for patients since they do not have to take time out of their day to travel to an office.
Telehealth Offers New Methods for Businesses
On a broader scale than just the medical field, telehealth offers expanded paths for businesses to offer services. Technology companies are integral to the telehealth experience so that the industry has more room for growth as well.
Many business models that have been developed for online banking or even real estate can work in similar ways for telehealth platforms. The goal of these models is to provide a more direct link to the targeted audience.
Telehealth Decreases Costs for Patients and Providers
As explained earlier, the world of telehealth allows patients to save time by not needing to physically commute to a doctor’s office. This also allows patients to save money. Examples of how telehealth cuts costs for patients include:
- Less need to take off time from work to go to appointments
- Decreased travel expenses such as gas or parking passes
Telehealth also decreases costs for health care providers, largely due to the way telehealth increases office efficiency. Telehealth cuts cost for health care providers by:
- Reducing the number of patients failing to show up to their appointments
- Offering the same medical services at a lower cost to the provider
Telehealth visits are considerably cheaper for many health care providers to offer than in-person appointments. For instance, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a leader a health care, reports that changing an onsite visit to a telehealth appointment saves approximately $86.
Reduced costs for health care providers also lead to increased revenue because the offices can extend their hours of service. This increases the number of hours a provider can classify as billable.
Patient Engagement Increases with Telehealth Appointments
With the expansion of telehealth apps for patients to self-monitor, patients become more aware of:
- Their lifestyle habits, such as food or drink frequency
- What is normal for their bodies, such as an individual’s body temperature
- Changes that happen with their health
Patient outcomes are improved because patients are more aware of what they are experiencing at an earlier stage. For instance, daily tracking of certain symptoms can serve as a proactive way of monitoring the progression of an ailment.
Telehealth helps to teach patients how to better care for themselves. This has been an extremely important asset of telehealth in helping overwhelmed health care providers prioritize who comes to the physical offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Services Is Telehealth Best For?
As with any industry, telehealth has its strengths in some areas and its weaknesses in others. There are certainly health services that telehealth is not the most suited platform for providing. While you may not want to receive all of your medical care through a telehealth platform, you might consider using telehealth for certain aspects of your health care.
Telehealth Is Great for Counseling Services
Many people find it difficult to talk about their feelings and emotions. This often makes people hesitant to seek professional guidance for mental health services because they feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger.
Virtual counseling and therapy services can relieve some of this difficulty by providing a sort of buffer that may make people feel more comfortable seeking help. For instance, people may feel like there is less pressure when they talk to a therapist through a screen.
This can be particularly important when a mental health patient cannot get to the physical office, such as many people have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many people, the need for mental health services grew strongest during times of quarantine.
Telehealth helps to make access to counseling and therapy sessions more consistent for patients seeking care. This leads to better patient outcomes in turn.
Prescription Management Is Easy with Telehealth
One of the best services that patients can access with telehealth is through the online management of prescriptions. Instead of patients having to call in refills for their prescriptions, online patient portals allow patients to submit refill requests on their own.
Remote prescription management offers patients a number of benefits such as:
- Ability to set reminders: Patients can often set reminders through their patient portals or pharmacy services that alert them when it is time to refill a prescription. This is especially helpful for patients who have several prescriptions to manage.
- Increased awareness of prescribed medicines: Particularly for patients who have multiple prescriptions, it can be easy to forget information about dosages and medicines. The online aspect of refilling prescriptions helps to reinforce the knowledge of the prescriptions since the patient sees the information in words.
Health care providers also have less of a burden when patients are able to submit prescription refills through telehealth platforms. Offices will not have their phone lines as busy with refill requests that can slow down the workflow. This is also a benefit for pharmacies that usually handle phone calls for prescription refills.
Many prescription services also allow patients to opt-in for their prescriptions to be mailed directly to their places of residence. This makes medical care even easier for patients since they do not have to drive or find transportation to a physical pharmacy.
You can also call an online medical provider to get a refill for your current medications. You will need a medical exam prior to the refill but it helps with medication management.
Telehealth Is Good for Routine Appointments
For many patients who have regular checkups that assess the performance of prescriptions or are simply annual exams, telehealth is more than adequate. Many of these visits to the doctor take a short period of time that would be better served through a virtual appointment.
A patient who has had a prescription for a medicine for a long period of time often has to meet with a physician annually to check in that the medicine is still working as it should. These visits are usually necessary for the patient to be able to refill their prescription.
For prescriptions that do not require physical tests to provide such confirmation, a telehealth appointment is a much more convenient practice for patients and doctors alike. Moving this type of appointment online will allow for smoother operations in physical medical offices.
What Does the Future of Telehealth Hold?
The rapid and drastic expansion of the telehealth industry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is not likely to suddenly go away once things return to “normal.” Patients and health care providers alike are seeing the benefits of using telehealth services.
Many of the possible features of future telehealth services are already in development. Patients can expect to see telehealth:
- Utilize wearable medical devices: Wearable sensors and monitors that are commercially available, such as smart watches, will become more connected to a patient’s health.
- Expand the use of implantable sensors: This may sound scarier than it actually is—the medical industry is working to develop devices that are placed in a patient’s body, such as a sort of pacemaker that collects data and transmits it to providers.
- Become an everyday service: Many people right now might see telehealth services and appointments as a temporary option, but this will likely change as the health care industry fully embraces providing telehealth options for patients.
Telehealth may also allow for a future of storing patient records exclusively online. Many health care providers have already started to maintain patient records electronically, but this practice is not done universally yet.
Digital maintenance of patient records and history can make it much easier for a patient to request and receive their personal documentation. It also facilitates the easier transfer of important health information from one provider to another.
The telehealth industry will continue to develop methods that:
- Increase patient engagement
- Optimize workflow and office efficiency
- Expand the access of quality medical care to more people
- Reduce costs for patients and health care providers
Final Thoughts: Telehealth Is a Growing, Valuable Industry
Telehealth’s popularity may have skyrocketed due to the need for curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the industry is here to stay. The widespread acceptance of telehealth platforms by health care providers has shown the value of offering virtual medical care.
Telehealth allows patients to save time and money, become more aware of their personal health, and consistently access medical care. A more engaged patient is able to recognize when something is wrong on a much faster timeline than one who does not self-monitor.
Health care providers are able to expand their reach to more patients who are underserved, increase workplace efficiency, and cut everyday costs. This is a huge help to an overwhelmed health care system that must rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic.
No one can really say just how incredible the developments in the telehealth world will be, but the opportunities are endless. Patients can look forward to a more accessible, more consistent experience with seeking out medical care and attention.