June 10, 2013
You know how hard it can be for older patients, especially those who live in rural communities to get to all the appointments they have. A trip to the doctor can be a big ordeal. They have to keep track of appointment dates and times, modify their daily routine to make time for the appointment, and possibly arrange for transportation assistance. But what if there was a way to help ensure they get the care they require in a more efficient way, for both them and for you? Remote access care through telehealth programs might be an answer.
Telehealth applications used currently in Canada include:
- Telemedicine -- delivering medical services from a distance.
- Tele-education -- meeting professional and patient education and research needs.
- Telecare or teletriage -- diagnosing medical problems through a call centre.
- Telemonitoring and telehomecare -- treating patients from their homes.
The Rise of Telehealth
Telehealth use is on the rise in every Canadian province and territory. A study by Canada Health Infoway, the government-funded organization that invests with provinces in telehealth initiatives, shows that telehealth in Canada has grown by more than 35 per cent annually from 2006 to 2011. The study reported that in 2011 the country had more than 5,700 telehealth systems in at least 1,175 communities across the country.
In 2010, Canada Health Infoway reported that almost 260,000 telehealth sessions were held that year. Nearly half of the clinical telehealth sessions delivered care to patients from rural and remote communities. Telehealth is proving to be a useful and necessary service, since 21 per cent of Canadians are considered rural dwellers.
The growth of telehealth can be attributed to increasing technological advances, the need to provide specialty services to rural and remote parts of our country and to reduce isolation of health professionals in remote areas through continued health and medical education. Telehealth is seen as a way to enhance access to healthcare services in Canada by providing high quality care in an affordable and timely manner.
Benefits of Telehealth
With our unique geography and unevenly distributed population, the expansion of telehealth in Canada offers many promising benefits. Telehealth could be of particular use for patients with chronic conditions and those living in rural and remote locations. Remote monitoring, sharing of data with the entire care team, and real time access to patient vitals could help reduce the large burden chronic illnesses place on the healthcare system. More on caring for those with chronic conditions is available at returninghome.com.
Along with financial and health benefits, telehealth reduces travel time and travel related expenses, which can be stressful for older patients and their families.
Practical Uses for Telehealth
There are many ways to use telehealth. Remote video consultations are great for follow-up discussions about tests and new medication regimens, or for patient and family education that might need repeating or be complex. Patients have the ability to participate in face-to-face conversations with a specialist and care provider at the same time and this allows for faster response times for medical tests and consultations.
6 Tips to Help Senior Patients Benefit from Telehealth
Consider these best practices for when introducing telehealth to senior patients.
- Allay fears. Stress the positives: less travel, more time with care providers, and easier scheduling. Encourage family participation during appointments if that makes them more comfortable.
- Emphasize easier access. Without the need to get from home to office and find transportation that doesn’t interfere with family members’ time, quality healthcare becomes less of a burden for everyone.
- Less pain, more gain. With less transportation comes less risk of injury for patients who might not be mobile without using assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs, and for whom getting in an out of cars and up stairs can be difficult.
- Enlist allies. Some seniors might feel less than technologically adept. Solicit help from family members to set up whatever computer devices are required for the telehealth program you have. It doesn’t take much – a web camera and telephone line connected up to a basic computer works in most cases.
- Testing! Testing! Be sure to try any new hardware or software before you go live. It’s especially important for senior patients that the technology on your end allows you to communicate as clearly and audibly as possible. Be sure to check issues like lighting, busy backgrounds, and noise levels.
- Smile! You’re on camera! Look directly at the camera to mimic looking at the patient. Even though a remote access consultation eliminates the literal personal touch, it’s important to maintain the feel of a personal one-on-one, which you can do through eye contact. Don’t try to multi-task while the patient is talking; give the patient your attention as you would if he or she is there in person.
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