You’d be surprised to know that the word ‘telehealth’ has been around for some time. COVID-19 made it more popular, but there isn’t much that’s new about the practice.
You will probably hear of telehealth a lot more in the age of social distancing, but, what is telehealth? How does it work? How can you take advantage of it?
If you haven’t done telehealth already, you will benefit from reading a little more about it. Many clinical practices are moving towards it, and this is your time to learn everything you can.
Telehealth is the future (if not the present) of medicine as we know it. So, let’s dive in and answer some of the most common questions that you might have as a student.
Are telehealth and telemedicine the same thing?
Some people would say that there isn’t much difference between telehealth and telemedicine. According to Wikipedia, both words can be used interchangeably (it doesn’t matter which one you use, they have the same meaning).
However, there might be some differences. The HRSA defines telemedicine as remote monitoring and diagnosing, and considers telehealth to be broader in its scope.
For them, telehealth might include other things like preventative and curative actions, which is why this term could be more important for you!
If you are feeling unsure about which word to use, remember that you might be doing more telehealth than telemedicine as an NP. After all, your job includes delivering primary care to your patients, among other things.
Also, remember that most people will use the two words interchangeably, so you don’t really have to worry about which one is correct. The word “telehealth” is much more popular and more widely understood, so use this one when doing your own research on the subject.
How does telehealth work?
First and foremost, you need to have a proper internet connection. You will see your patients via appointments, using an online platform.
Skype and Zoom are the most popular online platforms for video calls, so you might hear of them a lot. However, you can also find some platforms that are specifically designed for healthcare providers.
If you want to know which ones, scroll down to the end of this article.
Can I do telemedicine during my clinical rotations?
Every preceptor and every school has its own rules regarding remote practice. Telehealth does have some restrictions in place that we will explain below.
The best way to find out if you can do telehealth during your rotations is to first ask your school about it. Many schools are not currently accepting telehealth practice as a valid way to get hours for your rotations.
So, the best thing you can do right now is to educate yourself on how to use telehealth in your own private practice.
You will probably also use telehealth when you’re working professionally as an NP, so that’s a bonus. However, doing telehealth during your clinical rotations might be hard, but not impossible!
Is telehealth accepted everywhere in the US?
Not really. Telehealth practice is still new for many people, and there’s a lot of legislation in place that might prevent you from using it as a tool to check on your patients.
Regulations are different in every state, so you should do a quick Google search to learn more about where and when you can do a telehealth consult.
These laws are in place to ensure that patients get an adequate and efficient healthcare experience, so don’t be mad. It’s all for the greater good, and not everything can be done remotely.
However, telehealth is still a great resource, with lots of potential and room for improvement. COVID-19 has also opened the eyes of legislators to the benefits of remote practice, and things are changing rapidly.
Check out the website for the Center for Connected Health Policy to learn more. They are a non-profit organization that promotes the use of telehealth throughout the US.
Getting started with telehealth
Laptops come in all shapes and sizes, but for telehealth, the most important thing is your internet connection. You need to make sure that your online session won’t freeze in the middle of an important diagnosis.
Your internet connection should be at least 10 Mbps (megabits per second) in both download and upload speeds. This ensures high audio and video streaming quality.
If you want to go big, try to get an internet provider that will give you at least 35 Mbps. This will give you the best experience possible while doing video calls.
Once you’re set up with a good internet connection, you should move up to your actual equipment.
You can do telehealth sessions on your laptop, yes, but you can also do them on your tablet, or even on your phone! That last one is not recommended, but if you have an emergency, it’s best to have every resource at your disposal, so don’t count it out yet.
Laptop vs tablet for remote visits
Before we start the tech talk, we wanted to give you a quick tip: consider setting up a work profile on your laptop or tablet. This will help you to become more organized. Remember that telehealth requires you to set up a work environment in your home.
Laptop: Your Netflix-and-Facebook machine can do more than just provide you with entertainment. Some people will purchase a second laptop for work, but not everyone has that privilege.
Your ideal laptop should have at least 8GB of RAM to ensure optimal performance. You should also consider getting a laptop with a solid-state drive (SSD), but this depends on your needs.
SSDs help you load apps faster, but they don’t provide as much memory as regular hard drives.
On another note, Macbooks are great. However, if you’re looking for something less expensive, we recommend brands like Lenovo or Dell to get you started with everything you need.
Tablet: iPads are dominating the market when it comes to telehealth, but there are also some good offerings for Android users. The first thing you should look for in a tablet is a great camera and a great microphone.
If you don’t want to purchase a second laptop for your telehealth consults, a very good tablet can do the job just right.
Which software can I use to do telemedicine consults?
The bad thing about Skype and Zoom is that these apps are not HIPAA-compliant. Telehealth consults require you to follow the necessary guidelines to provide patients with standardized care.
There are some companies that have created software specifically for healthcare providers. These include:
These companies have created video call and appointment management software that is completely HIPAA-compliant, which will help you do your job a lot better. As an NP or NP student you might or might not encounter some of them in your workplace.
Take some time to get familiar with them and what they can offer you in terms of telehealth consults.
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