Telecommunication Technology and the Delivery of Health Services

The use of telecommunication innovations in the delivery of health services has been of immense benefits in terms of providing both clinical and non-clinical services. Some of the benefits of telecommunication comprise reducing transportation cost, improving efficiency, monitoring, and coordination, enhancing safety and promoting health services, as well as, increasing professional productivity. However, it has experienced setbacks in terms of costs, reliability, accountability, security, and protection of the resulting patient information, thus, affecting its adoption. Improving patient-health professional relationships, ensuring efficiency, and promoting the quality health information delivery are some of the benefits associated with PHR. However, security, privacy, and reimbursement are part the challenges inhibiting their adoption within the health sector. Patients should also access information from reputable websites through help from their physicians to take an active role in their health management and protection.  

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Telehealth is the secure transmission of health-related information and services via electronic media for the purpose of providing patient care, health education, training, and conducting administrative services. Mechanisms through which information can be transmitted include audio-conferencing, video-conferencing, computer networking, the use of audio graphics, computer-based multimedia, the internet, satellite television, and broadband networks. Telehealth has a number of benefits. First, it cuts transportation cost to the health facility and time. Further, it ensures post-discharge monitoring of the patient whereby patient recovery is monitored and prevents patient readmission to the health facility. Telehealth allows access to health for patients in remote areas who lack or have inadequate medical facilities and professionals to assist in delivering quality health services. Telehealth has also assisted people with disability, as well as, those with difficulties accessing a health facility. Telehealth assists patients in self-management acute medical conditions before they escalate to become chronic conditions due to better access to healthcare information. Telehealth has proved useful in improving the productivity of health practitioner as they can provide medical education, training, and medical consultancy to a relatively large group of people with similar ailments.

Clinical and non-clinical purposes are the two guidelines of telehealth care. Telehealth care is used for clinical purposes for the provision of medical services to the patient via assistance of a health professional. This is achieved with the help of patient consultations. The information to be shared ought to be secure in which case the patient gets a sense of confidentiality on matters relating to personal health. Telehealth for clinical purposes is only limited to the interactions between a health practitioner and the patient. Health practitioners may undertake diagnostic tests to determine the health conditions after which use medical equipment or tools to evaluate the extent of the condition and come up with a clear diagnosis of the patient’s condition. Monitoring of the patient is followed to ensure that the overall health of the patient improves. The three common methods of interaction between a patient and a health professional are real time, store and forward, and finally remote monitoring. In the real time method, the consumer engages with a health provider via live video conferencing. The store and forward method involves capturing audios, video images, and clinical data then sending them via electronic media to a health professional for careful studying or analysis. In remote monitoring, the patient health data gets entered into sensors and similar monitoring tools. Afterward, the data gets dispatched to an external monitoring store from where healthcare practitioners access and assess the information. An example of a scenario of telehealth is where diabetic patient results are captured by a glucometer and digitally transferred to a health professional for monitoring.

Telehealth care is used for non-clinical purposes in a number of ways, including training and educating individuals who want to get into the medical field, as well as, idea sharing and networking between people in remote areas with a health practitioner in the case conferencing. Additionally, it helps carry out clinical case reviews and ensures a secure sharing of medical resources between people in both urban and rural areas without the need to visit a medical facility.

A personal health record (PHR) is an electronic, universally available, lifelong resource on which a person’s health information is maintained. It is used in telehealth for clinical purposes and is beneficial to the patient in a number of ways despite having barriers related to its adoption. PHR should present complete, dependable and accurate data. It should also allow patients to acquire insights  regarding access, use, and collection of the relevant data. Major benefits attributed to PHR include improvement in patient-health professional relationships achieved through routine communication between the health professional and the patient, which foster a clear understanding of each other. Other benefits of the PHR include increasing patient empowerment, enhancing care safety, increasing efficiency, coordination, and quality of medical services. The PHR augments patient empowerment through empowering a patient to take active role in the management and prevention of a particular disease. Additional patient empowerment occurs as a result of proper dissemination of information that is easily understood. Another importance of PHR is notifying the patient regarding refilling prescriptions or scheduling appointments with the relevant health professionals.

PHR helps improve the health care and safety of the patient by reducing the amount of information missing in verbal communication between patient and provider. Despite the numerous benefits, challenges that exist include confidentiality over patient health information, cost, the integrity of the health services, accountability, health literacy, as well as, legal and liability risk. Cost barriers may be incurred in the installation of existing PHR in 80% of American health facilities, which could exceed $130 billion. Liability concerns arise from incomplete, inaccurate or difficult to verify data from medical professionals. Accountability concerns arise from the physician’s fear regarding treatment due to the existence of inaccurate information of PHR. Some physicians also fear they might not be repaid on the time they spend updating the PHR. Additionally, the adoption of the PHR is a barrier as physicians fear that there is a possible growth in the workload associated with the PHR.

Security and safety are areas of deep concern in relation to PHR and are among the many reasons some patients and health professionals are reluctant to adopt the system. Some security and safety regulatory measures that ought to be put in place include introducing security technology measures that prevent access to unauthorized. In addition, customizing IT security device settings can facilitate telehealth connections, which implies maintaining strict security procedures will minimize treat security issues. Additionally, the state should issue licensure and accreditation of health professional. Further, they have to put legal and regulatory mechanisms in place for monitoring service provision and improve the quality and safety of personal health records. Hospital, federal, and state lawmakers should collaborate and develop a legal and regulatory framework to ensure safety and security of PHR. Ethical measures include the role of professional in ensuring that the information of a patient is confidential, and should not be disclosed to any third party at any time without a patient’s consent. However, the quality of the health services may be compromised in cases where the patient want full control of what appears in the PHR. In such a case, the health provider might not be able to share it with other professionals for teamwork in fear of breaching the security protocols put in place in the system.

One of the non-clinical uses of telehealth discussed above is the use of the information for education and networking purposes networking in which case health professionals can use of health-related websites to disseminate important health insights. Information relating to some chronic conditions can be accessed through such websites. Diabetes is a common disease condition whose information is readily available on various health-related websites. The availability of website sources providing the information guarantees that certain disease management insights can be shared with diabetic patients. Therefore, the websites ensure diabetic patients can access the information at the comfort of their locality. Some common websites offering diabetic related information include Consumer Reports, Food and Drug Administration, and Academy of Nutrition and Academics.

The Consumer Reports website provides reviews about medical conditions and guides the consumer on the safest, inexpensive, and efficient drugs. A consumer can also search a drug name and medical conditions, as well as, get a comparison between brand name and generic drugs. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is another website. The site oversees regulation concerning pharmaceutical drugs, food products, and medical equipment use. It provides both consumer and professional help obtaining drugs, purchasing, and refilling prescriptions safely and saving costs associated with drugs.

Academy of Nutrition and Academics is another website and the best source of accurate, credible, and timely nutritional information for the general population. It provides information on nutritional of all people from the young to the old, as well as, advice for maintaining healthy weight. It also provides information on prevention and management of a disease is available. Additionally one can access a registered dietitian nutritionist on the website.

CAPHIS, which is an evaluative body of quality related websites, has reviewed the above websites and qualified them as credible information sources for consumers. The criteria used include credibility, authorship, content, timeliness, use, links, ability to contact the source, and the audience of the information. The websites are also reviewed by The Medical Library Association, which has a unique training and experience in relation to reviewing quality health websites. Patients should use the above criteria to assess proper sources of information. The website should not only comply with the guidelines but also meet their specific health condition necessities.

Concerns about the reputation of a healthcare website are still a factor that many patients consider. Factors to consider when selecting a reputable health care website include accuracy of the information, objectivity or unbiased nature of information, authority, coverage, and the level of currency of the presented information. Accurate information should reflect adequate and sound medical research, have no errors, and come from authoritative and reliable sources. Objectivity of the website relates to the organization that sponsored the website and the purposes of developing the website, for instance, whether it was for advertisement purposes. In determining the authority of the website, factors such as the publisher, institutional affiliation of the source, medical bodies supporting the website, the accessibility the website and identity of a domain all articulate the credibility and reliability of information. For instance, websites with .gov and .edu domains have greater credibility. The currency of data depends on the posting date, constant updates, and the functionality of the website links. Coverage takes the availability of additional information and completeness into consideration.

In conclusion, telehealth has many potential benefits to the population as discussed, even though, its fate depends on whether the benefits will overcome its challenges. Evaluation of telecommunication information is very crucial to determine how the information achieves its intended purpose. Furthermore, a legal and a regulatory framework should be developed between the health bodies and policy makers of a state to ensure standard criteria for monitoring and evaluating telehealth care.

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