By ANNE Di GREGORY
Men’s Health Network
Telehealth is our new best friend. Delivering health care services via technology and virtual modes is ideal in face of the Coronavirus pandemic, because it allows medical professionals to provide care while practicing social distancing. It also allows patients to receive care while avoiding crowded physicians’ office waiting rooms and clinics.
But does telehealth truly live up to all the hype? And is it really just as effective as in-person care?
According to Fundamentals of Telemedicine and Telehealth, 2020, telehealth is defined as, “the use of information and communication technology for persons and communities who have difficulty in accessing their health care provider.” While telehealth has recently become an important way to provide health care in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic in the US, it has actually been a part of the public health sphere for decades.
Telehealth began as a substitute for in-person appointments that might otherwise have been cancelled – or never made – because of distance, cost, or lack of transportation. But it has become more mainstream and expanded into live video consults/appointments, mobile health apps, remote monitoring of patients and more.
Dr. Salvatore Giorgianni, Jr., PharmD, and MHN senior science advisor stated, “Telehealth technology, when appropriately applied, offers immense benefits. Lack of time and convenience are two of the most common reasons men give for not engaging the health care system. This technology, particularly when used with remote monitoring of important factors such as blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, will improve both access and care.”
Giorgianni added that, “as the need for social distancing has already changed so many aspects of life, it also provides important safety elements for patients and providers.”
Alphonso Gibbs, LICSW, LCSW-C of the Veteran’s Administration Health Systems of Southern Nevada, agreed.
“Telehealth is something that will allow us to access clients who may be more difficult to reach or who feel less comfortable coming into an office setting. For those who are able to use it, it’s a good thing,” Gibbs said “However, I believe that we shouldn’t diminish the importance of in-person visits, because there are still those who need in-person visits and close observation.”
This past Friday, I had my first telehealth appointment with my provider. Being a “cusper” – one who is both a Millennial and Gen Z – I grew up using technology and the Internet, and watched as both expand into the field of health care. As a result, adopting telehealth into my personal life was natural and logical.
Why wouldn’t I use my phone or laptop to talk to my doctor when I use those two things to do practically everything else?
Nevertheless, as I signed on to a virtual portal to access the virtual meeting site, I became slightly nervous. But I quickly realized that I actually had far fewer reasons to be nervous than if I were physically going to see my doctor. The normal jitters around in-person visits didn’t seem to apply.
I was doing everything from the comfort of my own home, sitting on my own couch. I wasn’t stuck in a waiting room for 30 minutes or forced to sit awkwardly face-to-face with my provider. Instead, I was able to sip my coffee, and have a more natural conversation that flowed easily and quickly got to the root of the health problems that I was experiencing. I became more comfortable with my provider because it was just like video chatting with a friend – one who was particularly concerned about my health and well-being.
As a first-time telehealth user, I understand why our methods of health care are becoming more virtual. Why bother to physically see your provider if it’s not absolutely necessary?
Not only is telehealth convenient in times of public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also eliminates the hassle of transportation to and from appointments, finding parking, extra time spent waiting for other patients to be finished, and the overall unease of going into a physical doctor’s office. It also makes health care more accessible to those in remote, rural areas and those who are physically unable to leave their home.
I believe that telehealth will ultimately become a main mode of medicine and health care practice for common conditions and periodic follow-up, even after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
Telehealth really is my new best friend, and it should be yours, too.
Anne Di Gregory is a Programs and Communications Associate at Men’s Health Network. She has a Bachelors of Science in Global Health Studies from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, with a focus on community health and sex education. Anne has a background in public health and policy work with both private sector and government agencies.