Have you ever heard of the term telehealth, otherwise known as telemedicine or telecare? In these unprecedented times, now more than ever, you are likely learning these terms and the concepts they represent now. With June already here, so many of us are still continuing to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These are anxiety inducing times, especially when you or a member of your family or household needs medical attention. The stress levels increase tenfold, when a language barrier is introduced into this scenario. Many experts say that we should get used to telemedicine as the new way of receiving healthcare. So what is telemedicine all about? And what about the language access component of it?
What is Telemedicine?
Telehealth and telemedicine are defined as the provision of healthcare (the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients remotely) by means of telecommunications technology, key word being remote. Remote delivery of health services has been around for a while, however, it’s truly emphasized today more than ever before.
While the pandemic places a temporary hold on seeing your physician in-person or getting non-essential procedures, it also teaches us a long term lesson of how technology could bring solutions to patients and healthcare providers. COVID-19 will alter the telehealth landscape permanently and it behooves us to examine why telehealth is important now and will be even more pertinent in the near future. Even more, telemedicine introduces a dynamic way of video remote interpreting solutions for people of all languages. While the telehealth services might be used by some, it is also a necessary component for telemedicine to work with language solutions initiatives, in order to have a successful outcome.
In 2020, the U.S. telehealth market is expected to reach $10 billion due to COVID-19, according to an Arizton report. Many hospitals have invested in remote patient monitoring services and plan on investing more into what the reality of our future medical help will be.
Expansion of Telemedicine
Let’s examine some of the reasons for telemedicine expansion:
Global shortages and increases – there are not enough doctors and other medical professionals. According to 2019 data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), the United States will see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians in both primary and specialty care by 2032. In fact, physicians are retiring at a faster rate than new ones entering the professions. This is not just a factor in the US, but globally. On the flip side, the global patient population is growing, while also getting older on the average. That means that we will be requiring more health care, which, in turn, takes more time and effort to be delivered in person.
Disproportionately, there are even more shortages in rural areas with fewer doctors and the average age of residents being older than in urban areas. Rural areas had already been feeling detrimental effects prior to COVID-19 with hospitals disappearing, but with additional strains, the impact has spiked the utilization of telemedicine. Telemedicine will help to reduce the time of consultations and improve the quality of healthcare services in rural areas, removing many infrastructural challenges. One such example is the $100 million launch of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program by the Federal Communications Commission. The program aims to support broadband expansion projects that brought new telehealth services into rural areas.
Pandemics – experts say that we are in for a rough fall and winter in light of COVID-19 and its possible second wave. We also have at least 12-18 months before a vaccine is developed and likely longer for it to be widely available. Going beyond our current realities, once COVID-19 is defeated, we could still be impacted by other viruses. So, we might have to accept that this is our “new normal” for an extended period of time.
There are a number of categories of telehealth. Here are a just a few to name:
Remote monitoring – this could involve monitoring vital signs of a patient with acute or chronic conditions at home, with collected information submitted to a healthcare facility for further interpretation. Of course, this does not compare to the physical aspects of medical care (physical examination, blood work, etc.). Merritt Hawkins, a physician search company, has tracked the acceleration of telemedicine and how doctors are responding to COVID-19. They found that, “the use of telemedicine has been rapidly accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic.”
Consults – this category could include various exchanges of test results, such as X-rays, MRIs or other radiology images, as well as photos, videos and other patient information, interaction between two doctors, one treating and another one, who makes an analysis, diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.
Telehealth and Language Access
However, telehealth is most commonly known as interactive care, medical care that involves interaction between a doctor and patient in real time. It may involve live video and audio or just audio, provision of medical data and direct communication between the patient and a doctor or other medical professional. That is as close as it gets to an in-person healthcare. As telehealth services expand, so does the need for language solutions to meet the needs of Deaf and Limited English proficient patients via telecare.
Bromberg & Associates has a Video Remote Interpreting solution: VRI Gateway. These resources provide immediate access to highly qualified interpreters anywhere in the world. With the use of any mobile or stationary device, VRI Gateway gives you a platform to meet your needs. Now, more than ever, having a reliable telehealth and language solutions resource is one of the benefits that cannot be taken for granted.