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There’s no question about it: when the coronavirus cropped up, it shut everything else down. From schools and workplaces to public parks and government offices, our world went into lockdown.
Just because our worlds were put on pause to try to contain the pandemic doesn’t mean your health needs were as well, however. In response to the outbreak, healthcare providers the world over have been forced to indefinitely postpone exams or procedures not deemed “essential” (i.e. anything that didn’t involve a nearly immediate risk of death or profound injury).
That means a lot of people were at risk of being denied the routine but necessary healthcare they needed. Thanks to telemedicine, however, that risk has never become a reality for many patients. As the pandemic has surged, healthcare providers across the nation have turned, often for the first time, to telehealth. With telehealth, care providers are able to ensure their patients receive the care they need without risking exposure to the virus.
What Is It?
Telehealth, in general, refers to both the tools and the techniques used to provide physical, mental, behavioral, or emotional healthcare services remotely. Often, the term refers not only to the actual healthcare the patient receives, but also to the various remote technologies used to provide it.
That can include everything from the secure patient portals on which patient/provider interactions occur to the health information technologies on which patient records are stored, accessed, and shared. Telehealth also often refers to the wearables and other devices used to monitor patients’ vitals or relay other essential patient information to the caregiver.
Telemedicine, on the other hand, is more focused. The term refers specifically to the act of providing healthcare services, whether that be a virtual physical, a remote eye exam, or a counseling session by phone.
Benefits for Rural Communities
The benefits of telemedicine were evident long before the pandemic. Telemedicine is increasingly being used in rural communities to provide access to consistent, quality healthcare to patients who would otherwise be shut out due to disability, age, or the lack of transportation.
As more and more healthcare systems turn to telehealth in the face of the pandemic, its enormous potential to help overcome the significant health disparities that afflict the Midwest are being realized. Many of those problems are being eliminated.
The Eyes Have It
One of the most exciting aspects of telehealth is its sheer versatility. Telehealth is about more than video conferencing with your doctor or phoning in the data from your at-home EKG.
With telehealth, you don’t have to leave your house to receive practically any kind of healthcare you need, including vision care. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can get an online eye exam, a prescription for new glasses, and the frames of your choice en route to your mailbox, all in the same day.
Support at Home
We’re truly living in unprecedented times. The pandemic has introduced a measure of fear, uncertainty, and change into our daily lives, the likes of which many of us have never seen before.
As a result, we’re seeing a surge in rates of anxiety, and the toll is even greater on those suffering from addiction. As friends and celebrities turn to online gatherings to ease their sense of worry and isolation, recovering addicts may feel that they have nowhere to turn for support or understanding, especially for those who may not be involved in more traditional rehab therapies.
This is where the power of behavioral and mental telehealth really shines. The use of telemedicine to support those in addiction recovery has been shown to be as effective, if not more effective, than in-person care. Best of all, it’s care that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. By using such telehealth services, you’re not only helping to safeguard against the virus, but you’re also using an on-demand service that is available when you need it most.
The coronavirus has changed nearly every aspect of our daily lives, but the one thing it hasn’t changed is the need for reliable, accessible, and consistent healthcare. While our lives are shutting down and routine medical exams and “nonessential” medical procedures are being canceled, telehealth has stepped in to fill the gap. Thanks to telehealth, we can not only receive the vital healthcare we need, but we can do so without risking exposure to the virus or potentially exposing those around us.
In addition, for patients in rural areas, especially the elderly and disabled, or those without reliable transportation, telemedicine may just be the key to accessing the quality of care they’ve been denied for so long. Most exciting of all, telehealth is incredibly versatile, accommodating a range of services from physical exams to vision care, and for patients suffering from mental illnesses or addiction, telemedicine offers immediate, remote access to skilled and compassionate caregivers. That could mean the difference between life and death.