How do I love digital technology and social media? Let me count the ways. I can open my garage door remotely before I get to my driveway. I can do all my shopping online. I can deposit a check into my account by sending a cell phone image to my bank. I can find out anything I need to know instantly through the internet. I can see my young son's happy face when I call him from anywhere in the world. And while I can't extract my own tooth, or perform a self-guided appendectomy, much of my health care can be done remotely. Telehealth is the new best thing.
"The trend of consumers taking charge of their healthcare is going to accelerate," says Lisa Stockman, president of global public relations and medical communications at inVentive Health, who cites the HealthKit software platform and health app for Apple's newest devices, developed with input from the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic website, by the way, has a useful description of what telehealth includes, the tools to better manage our health with online support groups, e-mail with providers, electronic records, remote monitoring of vital signs, and video or online doctor visits.
Some form of telehealth is already in use in 42 percent of the nation's hospitals and as costs for health care continue to rise and patients spend less time in the hospital, good outpatient care is vital to continued recovery. Traditionally, follow up care after hospital stays has been provided by family caregivers who would drive you to the doctor or hospital or by visiting nurses where they were available. In rural areas where people can't easily get to the hospital for checkups and monitoring after surgery telehealth is a very important innovation. Cardiologists can remotely monitor our hearts and radiologists can monitor images on smart phones. Blood pressure monitors can be connected to the internet or to video equipment to allow face-to-face interaction with our doctors the same way we can talk with friends in other countries via Skype.
Despite last year's bad press, the Veterans Administration is recognized as one of the world leaders in this new area of health care. Services are delivered using virtual linkages like video teleconferencing. A speech pathologist located at an urban VA medical center can be linked with a post-stroke patient who is at his or her local VA community outpatient clinic and monitor the patient's functional status and equipment needs. It can also be done using home telehealth technologies. Being in such online communities helps patients better manage their condition, and they can also find care for their spirit, talk to someone about their pain, at sites like chaplaincareforveterans.org.
An article in a recent issue of Health Progress outlines ways that spiritual telehealth care has also arrived. "My point is many people who are sick and in spiritual distress are turning to the Internet for help," writes Brian Smith. "Many of these individuals do not have a spiritual home or anyone they can talk to about their emotional and spiritual needs in a time of illness." He recommends two websites (links) where such seekers -- no matter what their beliefs -- can get help in finding someone, professionally trained in spiritual care they can speak with.
Telehealth gets us more engaged in our own health care and that includes our emotional and spiritual care. Through social media spiritual telehealth engages patients and families on the importance of such care in their wellness.
Telehealth leaves us with no excuse not to find the help we need -- for body and soul -- no matter where in the world we are.
Now, if only I had a teleshovel device to clear all the snow out of my driveway!