Originally published on The Inpathy Bulletin

When it comes to scheduling healthcare visits, millions of people are faced with the challenge of conflicting priorities. For the business man or woman, it could be scheduled work events, meetings with clients, presentations, or cross country flights and the accompanying hassle of hotels, rental cars, and jet lag. For the overextended parent juggling their myriad of responsibilities it could be school and extracurricular activities on top of their own busy work schedule. Finding the time to schedule regular check-ups with a primary care physician or dental visits can seem hard enough, but if follow-up appointments or further healthcare treatment is needed, it can seem impossible.

any other factors deter people from receiving the health services that they need. For instance, families who live in remote rural areas often have difficulties finding providers who are practicing nearby. According to the National Rural Health Association, only 10% of physicians practice in rural areas. As a result, consumers are required to travel, sometimes long distances, just to receive basic treatment and follow-up services. Specialty medical services can be even harder to find in rural areas, increasing the financial burden on families making expensive trips to receive medical care. In mental health care, 96% of counties in the US have a shortage of psychiatric prescribers. Some illnesses make it physically or mentally challenging for travel to medical facilities. Limited mobility and limited access to transportation are deterrents for many individuals and families.

As a result of these interferences, health needs often go unmet. Untreated mental illness alone creates an economic loss of $100 billion in productivity annually, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. The individual burden of untreated mental illness can include unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, and suicide. To address these problems, and others associated with finding accessible healthcare, technology has been picking up the slack and telehealth is growing in acceptance and use.

Telehealth services are one of the most efficient ways to provide healthcare to individuals and families who would otherwise be unable to access providers on a regular basis. Psychiatry, radiology, dermatology, forensics, nursing home care, and surgery consultations tend to be the more common fields that utilize telehealth services. However, telehealth services are expanding, with online consultations becoming an accepted approach to treatment in additional fields. Telehealth is not a medical specialty, but it is a part of the overall delivery of clinical care. Patient consultations via videoconferencing are becoming more common and now mobile apps and other consumer technology are being utilized to deliver healthcare services. This allows providers to do consultations and receive vital feedback from clients without them having to make an in-person office visit. This increases the flexibility for scheduling appointments and removes many of the barriers to receiving healthcare. When mobility is restricted or time is an issue, these applications can be very useful in providing quality care.

Aside from patient consultations via videoconferencing, telehealth is comprised of many aspects of remote monitoring. Vital signs can be measured using wearable technology, such as pacemakers and other devices, allowing practitioners to receive critical clinical data from offsite locations. Call centers are also considered part of telehealth services. Consumers can call in to report medical changes or ask questions about their care even when no appointment is scheduled. All of the data acquired by remote monitoring and call centers is accessed by the provider, giving them the capacity to make informed decisions regarding their client’s healthcare.

Shortages in quality care vary across medical disciplines, but are particularly noticeable in the mental health fields, impacting veterans, children, and other vulnerable populations. Telehealth services are an efficient way to decrease the shortages and increase access to behavioral health services. Consumers can connect with psychiatrists and therapists right from home. As a result, disorders such as depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and other mental and behavioral health symptoms can be addressed even when transportation, mobility, time, and finances are limited. Telehealth services are becoming increasingly popular and the trend suggests that these services will become even more readily available to consumers over time. Additionally, as technology becomes more advanced, services will continue to adapt to provide even more efficient and higher quality care. Such services will provide even the most vulnerable of consumers the opportunity to access high quality care in an efficient and cost effective manner.