This article by Ambra Health CEO, Morris Panner, was originally published in Forbes on June 8, 2020.
Telehealth has long been an intriguing proposition — but one that has been slow to catch on due to an array of issues ranging from privacy concerns to the need for technological upgrades. However, with so many people adhering to social distancing measures recently, many healthcare providers have had to rapidly adopt telemedicine as a way of ensuring patients are cared for.
Telehealth: Powered By Tech
Technology is the core of telehealth, as it is what enables patients to connect with medical professionals from the safety and comfort of their homes. The types of technology employed can include devices and applications for texting, chatting over the internet, screen sharing, phone calls and video conferencing. While the ideal method varies depending on the nature of the consultation, a video call comes the closest to capturing a more traditional doctor-patient interaction.
Although some HIPPA regulations have been waived due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a typical video visit with a physician will occur using a HIPPA-compliant platform, such as SimplePractice or Zoom for Healthcare. The patient has to have an appropriate device, such as a smartphone or Internet-connected laptop, and also be able to utilize the platform (which may involve downloading software in advance).
For something closer to a traditional exam, the patient might need other technologies, like remote monitoring equipment. But telehealth is often most suitable for situations that don’t require an intensive exam, such as a patient having an obvious eye infection that requires an antibiotic prescription — or a meeting to get advice regarding symptoms that a patient is experiencing.
Caregivers checking in to make sure a person has taken their medication is also a form of telehealth. Furthermore, telehealth can also be a great way to connect with a therapist for mental health concerns.
Connecting Face To Face From Afar
Especially in recent months, the health implications of video conferencing have actually proven to go beyond physical and mental well-being. Many people have been turning to video conferencing as a way of maintaining their social lives and emotional health, as it enables them to stay in touch with friends and family. Grandparents are using FaceTime to virtually “visit” their grandkids on their phones, friends are having virtual karaoke parties, and families are celebrating important religious gatherings like Passover using online platforms.
This process has been exciting for many people discovering how they can still simulate the experience of “hanging out” with friends, enjoying old traditions in a novel way and, in some cases, having more “face-to-face” conversations with far-off loved ones than usual. Psychologist Susan Pinker says that face-to-face communication can even act as a kind of vaccine because it triggers the release of neurotransmitters that can help regulate stress and anxiety.
Watch Out For Video-Conferencing Exhaustion
But, for all their virtues, the technologies that help foster good health and allow us to stay connected also have their downside. Many people are beginning to report “Zoom fatigue,” complaining that video calls are actually becoming stressful in their own way. Trying to maintain a conversation through a small screen and staying in the same place while doing so can get physically uncomfortable and require an exhausting amount of focus. Video conferencing can also make people feel overly self-conscious about their own appearance, which can cause anxiety.
In many ways, the difficulties that people are experiencing as they try to communicate with others through video technology, whether for work or social purposes, echo the issues that healthcare professionals have to contend with when using it for telehealth.
A doctor can talk to the patient and look at the patient, but it’s a limited view — hardly the same as being alone together in three-dimensional space. Many details of an examination are liable to be overlooked, too, much as many of the nuances in the way people communicate will be lost in a video chat.
Whether for our physical health or our social health, we can’t over-depend on video conferencing as a cure-all — a balance must be struck. But as long as we are mindful of its limitations, and take breaks from it when we need to, we can strategically use this technology in ways that can benefit our health overall.