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Telehealth is not a specific device or program but a combination of different technologies created to improve patient care and health promotion. The concept of telemedicine is currently seen as a way to increase beneficial outcomes for underserved and vulnerable populations (Magnus et al., 2018). The sphere of telehealth research includes various hardware and software which can be introduced to healthcare organizations as means of serving those who have barriers to care. This essay aims to discuss the impact telehealth can have on vulnerable populations and patient safety and provide an example of currently used telehealth technology.
Access to Telehealth: Benefits and Issues
The needs of vulnerable populations remain unaddressed by conventional approaches to care because of many reasons such as people’s low income, remote location, or inability to travel. Telehealth can overcome these barriers by offering remote care that does not require healthcare professionals and patients to relocate. Thus, such technology can have a positive effect on people’s health outcomes. A study by Magnus et al. (2018) presents a specific example of an underserved population – transgender women of color (TWC). It may be dangerous for these women to leave their homes as they are often exposed to high rates of violence and stigma. The introduction of telehealth services to these individuals eliminates the need to seek healthcare in places where the women’s lives may be endangered. Therefore, healthcare professionals can meet the needs of TWC by using telehealth. Other vulnerable populations have similar problems. This case shows that telemedicine is a practical approach to dealing with populations’ health barriers.
The example mentioned above reveals how telehealth may improve patient health and decrease disparities. TWC and other populations may feel more comfortable connecting with healthcare workers that are prepared to work with their issues which reduces the possibility of low-quality care. The needs of such individuals may require personnel who do not have any biases. Furthermore, telehealth can provide such patients with privacy, allowing them to discuss problems which could stay undisclosed otherwise.
However, technology may also lead to some patient safety issues. For example, the mentioned privacy can be breached if the installed technology is not protected from hackers and viruses adequately. Thus, the concern for information security arises when using telehealth services. Moreover, the lack of one’s physical presence in the practitioner’s office can also decrease patient safety regarding patients’ honesty and self-assessment. Social media can mitigate these issues. By using social media platforms, healthcare professionals may connect with patients in a more informal environment or monitor community health through daily updates.
Telehealth can be represented by a wide range of services and devices. For instance, there exist wearable sensors which record data about patients’ motions. A study by Heldman et al. (2017) investigates how these devices can be used for persons with Parkinson’s disease to record tremors, dyskinesia, or bradykinesia. Notably, some participants in the study were not only wearing these devices but also interacting with their physicians only through video conferences and phone calls. The results of the research show that quantifiable data collected by the sensors allow the participating neurologists to monitor their patients. Therefore, one can conclude that the use of such technology can improve health outcomes for those individuals who are unable to travel or leave their homes.
Telehealth creates many opportunities for both patients and healthcare professionals, allowing the latter to devise strategies for helping underserved populations. The use of technology is necessary for many spheres of people’s lives, and healthcare may significantly benefit from it as well. The needs of vulnerable and underserved populations can be met with innovative devices and online communication. Social media can also improve the lives of patients, giving them a platform to connect with other members of the community. While it may have some privacy issues, telehealth can greatly improve patient safety and decrease health disparities.
Heldman, D. A., Harris, D. A., Felong, T., Andrzejewski, K. L., Dorsey, E. R., Giuffrida, J. P.,… Burack, M. A. (2017). Telehealth management of Parkinson’s disease using wearable sensors: An exploratory study. Digital Biomarkers, 1(1), 43-51.
Magnus, M., Edwards, E., Dright, A., Gilliam, L., Brown, A., Levy, M.,… Kuo, I. (2018). A feasibility study of a telehealth intervention on health care service utilization among transgender women of color in Washington, DC. ACI Open, 2(1), e1-e9.