Telehealth offers tremendous potential to transform the healthcare delivery system by overcoming geographical distance, enhancing access to care, and building efficiencies. Telehealth is a different method of healthcare delivery that provides similar or supplemental services to in-person encounters.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
Although no standard definition exists for this important area of health information technology (health IT) across both the private and public sectors,7 there is general consensus that telehealth supports a range of clinical activities, including:
- Enhance interactions among providers to improve patient care (e.g., consultation with distant specialists by the direct care provider);
- Support provider-to-provider training
- Enhance service capacity and quality (for example, small rural hospital emergency
departments and pharmacy services);
- Enable direct patient-provider interaction (such as follow-up for diabetes or hypertension); or urgent care services);
- Manage patients with multiple chronic conditions from a distance; and
- Monitor patient health and activities (for example, home monitoring equipment linked to a distant provider).
These activities are especially useful in communities where access to appropriate healthcare services is limited. Compared to residents of urban communities, residents of rural and frontier communities are more likely to be older and to have more risk factors associated with their health conditions.