Telehealth was first created to provide patient’s living in rural or remote areas access to health care services. This could be done through video chat or phone call. For example, in states such as Nebraska and Alaska where there is a shortage of health care providers and nurses, patient’s are able to talk directly to a nurse or doctor through Telehealth applications without having to commute to a hospital or clinic. The impact of Telehealth has been growing steadily over the years and has spread from rural areas to urban and populated areas. Telehealth is defined as “the integrated use of electronic information and telecommunications technology to support remote clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.” The primary goal of Telehealth is to improve the patient’s access to health care services while providing the same level of care or better as those in clinics or hospitals. Telehealth is affecting nursing because it allows the nurse to be able to monitor and talk to their client without having to be face to face with the client. Telehealth is not available for all types of clients. Those with serious or life threating conditions are usually placed in hospitals, but clients with acute illnesses or those that require monitoring are able to take advantage of Telehealth which makes it easier on the client and on the health care providers.
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For example, a patient diagnosed with diabetes can measure their blood glucose level at home and send their results to the nurse who can monitor the patient’s data and formulate a care plan from that. The most prevalent field of Telehealth for nurses is home care. The most obvious benefit for nurses in home care is the removal of having to commute to the patient’s home and the risks associated with commuting. By removing those distractions, the nurse can provide direct and concentrated care to the patient. Another benefit is due to technological advancements, many Telehealth devices have equipment such as thermometers, sphygmomanometers, and stethoscopes attached, which allows the patient to send their vital signs straight to the nurse and online database. Nurses can also assess a patient’s behavior through Telehealth devices. Infrared scanners are being used to monitor a patient’s behavior and daily routine which allows the nurse to see any deviations, which the nurse can work on straight away. Infrared scanners can also be used to assess fall risks in elderly patients who live at home.
Although it might seem that Telehealth is the future of health care, there are some drawbacks to consider. The main disadvantage of using technology and electronic devices is that they are sometimes unreliable or malfunction. A patient’s thermometer or sphygmomanometer may malfunction and cause a different reading from the patient’s actual reading, which the nurse should catch right away and try to fix the problem. Another obvious disadvantage is the need for a constant and reliable internet connection from both ends. If there is a blackout at the nurse’s location, then the patient will be unable to communicate with the nurse which can cause serious problems. A disadvantage of using technology to communicate is that the nurse is not able to see the client fully when they are talking. There are non-verbal communication cues that the nurse can miss due to the lack of face to face contact, which makes it difficult to fully diagnose clients. Like any other health care system, Telehealth requires nurses to be trained to be able to use all the applications and devices properly, which can take some time. Nurses also have to be properly trained to speak clearly since talking through video chat or phone call can make it hard to understand. Since nurses are taking care of multiple patients who live in different states, a license to be able to provide care in multiple states may be needed. There is also limited coverage by insurers for Telehealth services. For example, Medicare requires that patients must be located in a medical facility and not their own home while receiving services. There are also privacy issues that can affect the confidentiality of a patient. Telehealth utilizes many third party applications which may be attacked by hackers or data breaches.
The Future of Telehealth
Since there is already a shortage of nurses in general, there is also a shortage for nurses in the Telehealth field. The Telehealth field is predicted to grow by almost 30% from 2017 – 2023, which creates more jobs for nurses and health care providers to fill up. As for the disadvantages, such as nurses requiring a license to be able to provide care in multiple states, the Enhanced Nurse Licensing Compact (eNLC) was created to allow nurses to provide care in 29 of the states that are recognize the eNLC with one license. The benefits of Telehealth definitely outweigh the disadvantages, according to one study “the use of hybrid telehealth technologies could eliminate as many as 387,000 transports to ERs annually, resulting in a cost savings of $327 million. The main goal of nurses is to have patients out of the hospital and to help them stay outside, which Telehealth nurses can help prevent patients from having to go to the hospital again which saves time and money for the patient. With the technology boom and the growth of availability of smart devices, there is a higher demand for mobile Health or mHealth. This has caused the growth of health-related applications for mobile devices that allow the patient to talk to a nurse or doctor at any time and other health services. This has also increased a need for nurses in the Telehealth field, as nurses are mainly the ones answering the patients first and then they transfer to the doctor.