Assessing Quality of Telehealth and Telemedicine
Assessing Quality of Telehealth and Telemedicine
The access to medical services has been a primary issue in the sphere of the contemporary healthcare service delivery. The need for healthcare providers to serve many people, particularly in the rural settings, resulted in efforts to integrate the technology with healthcare, thereby developing telehealth and telemedicine. Since their inception, these two aspects of healthcare have remarkably promoted the outreach of medical services to a greater level, thus improving the lives of people in various regions. In particular, telehealth and telemedicine enable the delivery of health services by the medical practitioners to patients regardless of their geographical location, hence promoting efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and wider healthcare access (Fong, Li, & Fong, 2013). In this regard, an analysis of the use of telehealth and telemedicine in New Jersey facilitates an understanding of their significance in healthcare services and their impact on patients’ lives.
The Current Use of Telehealth in Medical Services: a Case Study of New Jersey
The ubiquitous advancements in technology have been instrumental in improving several aspects of the healthcare setting. Taylor et al. (2015) refer to telehealth as the integration of techniques that enhance health care, public health, and health education delivery as well as support telecommunication technologies to foster the provision of virtual medical services. On the other hand, telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technology, such as teleconferencing, mobile technology, and document-sharing, to deliver consistent clinical health care services across distant locations (Taylor et al., 2015). It is effective in overcoming geographical hindrances, especially distance, and securing access to health care.
Telehealth and telemedicine are applicable in various settings, to manage health care services remotely. To illustrate, in New Jersey, telemedicine enables a physician to treat patients when necessary, regardless of their location, by using a computer or a smartphone. It incorporates the electronic face to face interaction between a medical professional and the patient to allow the sharing of images, diagnostics, data, and medical records between the two parties. Additionally, a law governing the use of telemedicine in New Jersey requires that the service should encompass audio and store-and-forward interactive videos for communication (Patel & Rushefsky, 2015). However, if the practitioner is satisfied with the patient records, then they may consult the patient through audio and store-forward media.
As part of the regulations on telehealth in New Jersey, health care providers are required to acquire licenses, certifications, or registrations relevant to their professional domain. For Medicaid services in New Jersey, the patient needs to obtain a written consent prior to accessing telemedicine health care (Patel & Rushefsky, 2015). For this reason, about 84% of people in New Jersey have not used telehealth services before. However, due to its potential benefits, such as accessibility and convenience, the residents of this state are willing to use it. Hence, the implication of telehealth use in New Jersey implies an improved and efficient health care management system whereby the patients access quality care without necessarily visiting health facilities.
Telehealth is characterized by diversity in the sectors of the population that it serves. For instance, it is primarily helpful for the individuals who need medical attention, but distance limits their opportunities. In particular, people who live in rural areas are the most affected people (Khandpur, 2017). For this reason, the rural population constitutes the widest category of patients that benefits from the program.
The Role of the Telehealth Nurse
Considering that the role of nurses in healthcare settings is to offer holistic care to patients, telehealth has significantly improved these services with respect to nursing care. Due to the technological advancements, the nurses can use telehealth to monitor patient’s vital health markers, such as oxygen levels, respiration, heart rate, and blood glucose levels, regardless of their physical location, provided that they can access the devices necessary for telehealth (Fong et al., 2013). A nurse can also educate the patients on how to perform first aid procedures, such as treating minor burns, and also instruct them on how to undertake medical activities, including dressing wounds. In this way, the role of the nurses in telehealth is to decrease the rate at which patients visit health facilities in search for health care services by encouraging the latter to participate in self-administration of minor health procedures actively.
Various Types of Systems and Equipment Used in Telehealth
Owing to the fact that most people have access to fundamental technological developments, such as smartphones, the Internet, and computers, the application of telehealth and telemedicine has been successful to a significant extent. However, this technology is dependent on the equipment that facilitates the efficiency of the telehealth system. For example, telemedicine carts, kiosks, digital cameras, kits, and the telemedicine software are the examples of the tools used in telehealth and telemedicine as discussed in the section below.
This piece of equipment has practical application in large health facilities that require complex telemedicine solutions. According to Khandpur (2017), a telemedicine cart is a tool with a robust frame and a storage system that allows a physician to carry a computer, keyboard, camera, and other medical equipment for purposes of easy movement to enable them to record and transmit various patients’ medical data to another location. Moreover, patients can install this device at home to facilitate easy telemedicine procedures.
The medical practitioners who provide health care in rural settings usually require portable and durable kits because of the unpredictable conditions in some regions. A telemedicine kit is a medical apparatus equipped with a camera, small computer, and simple medical gadget to enhance the recording and transmission of the patients’ health records to a physician located in a different region (Khandpur, 2017). This kit can also be in the custody of the patient who requires emergency consultation and treatment services.
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Considering that some telemedicine services may require video-conferencing services, high-resolution digital cameras are able to capture high-quality pictures and videos to enhance the delivery of detailed images to the medical personnel in different locations for evaluation. Additionally, other sophisticated examination pieces of equipment are often integrated with such digital cameras for similar purposes. Since these devices are costly, they are beneficial for store-forward telemedicine services between two physicians.
The opportunity of cloud computing in information technology has resulted in simpler methods of storing and retrieving data. Consequently, program developers have designed telemedicine software to offer solutions that enhance information storage and manipulation on servers and other hardware computer components. This software includes various services, such as store-forward telemedicine, video conferencing, medical data collection, and monitoring (Font et al., 2013). It is usually incorporated into the computers of healthcare practitioners to foster smooth execution of the telemedicine services.
Mobile Medical Devices
These gadgets are efficient in aiding the capture and electronic transmittal of medical data from a patient to a physician. These devices include medical scopes and illumination systems, digital stethoscopes, vital signs monitors, spirometers, and ultrasound probes (Khandpur, 2017). They are usually the products of telemedicine device companies which provide a variety of audio-visual recording equipment.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Use of Telehealth
Firstly, the telehealth medical system is convenient and offers accessible patient care, hence improving the life quality of the majority of people within the society. Patel and Rushefsky (2015) affirm that most patients prefer easy access to medical services to in-person interactions with health personnel. Therefore, the inception of telehealth facilitates contributes to a wider health care access, hence treating more patients compared with in-person healthcare services. As a result, those who have a hard time traveling long distances in search of healthcare services find telehealth convenient in terms of time expenditure.
Another advantage of telehealth is that it reduces the expenses on medical care, thereby giving an opportunity to spend the finances on other important purposes. The remote evaluation and virtual monitoring of patients save financial resources for the patient and insurance companies (Khandpur, 2017). In this respect, telehealth reduces the frequency of unnecessary hospital visits for regular check-ups, hence eliminating the need to spend on transportation services.
Additionally, telehealth ensures better patient care quality through patient-centered examination and treatment approaches. Health institutions also focus on timely attendance of illnesses since the technological devices offer instant medical data transmittal and retrieval (Fong et al, 2013). Accordingly, this feature of telehealth alleviates patient anxiety, stress, and depression. Consequently, it facilitates the delivery of better quality of healthcare services.
Moreover, telehealth promotes extended specialist access and better referral services through quicker consultations, regardless of patients’ location. The implication is that appointment commitments are effectively reduced by the timely transmission of electronic medical data and the subsequent medical advice from the health professionals (Khandpur, 2017). Thus, telehealth guarantees extensive healthcare provision and referral services.
Costly equipment and technical training constitute a major disadvantage of using telehealth in providing healthcare. The mobile medical devices and other equipment, such as the digital cameras, are expensive to purchase. Additionally, restructuring staff tasks related to the information technology and effective training of the medical practitioners and physicians takes time (Taylor et al., 2015). Therefore, installation and running of these systems are costly in terms of time and money.
The reimbursement rules and policies in relation to the healthcare laws are tricky considering that the healthcare providers strive to deliver high quality medical services. In as much as the telehealth reimbursement services have developed over time, they are still a hindrance to the provision of health care by medical professionals. In this regard, telehealth is disadvantageous for healthcare providers who do not receive reimbursement for their services.
Moreover, telehealth services promote reduced care continuity since telehealth involves the interaction of patients and random physicians. The implication is that a medical professional who interacts with a patient for the first time may not have an insight into the previous record of the patient’s health history (Taylor et al., 2015). This discontinuity of health care delivery is a risk factor for patients with chronic illnesses as they may go unnoticed during treatment.
Technical hitches associated with the telemedicine devices are considered risky as the patients might lose touch with the physicians in case the system fails. Additionally, there is a likelihood of misinterpreting the information transmitted, which indicates the inefficiency of telehealth. This technological limitation, therefore, serves as a disadvantage to the use of telehealth.
Effects of Telehealth on Personal Privacy Rights and Ethical Principles
Personal Privacy Rights
Issues concerning the patients’ privacy rights often arise due to the number of people who potentially access their files and records. Fong et al. (2013) maintain that since telehealth enables an interactive platform between the patients and the medical professionals, the latter may provide exposure to the former’s data, which results in challenges of confidentiality. Moreover, the technological systems are vulnerable to hackers who pose dangers to the privacy of patients whose records are stored and transmitted electronically. In this way, telehealth use affects the confidentiality of patients’ private information.
Ethical challenges are also bound to arise from the use of telehealth in healthcare delivery. For example, according to Taylor et al. (2015), there is potential harm to the patients upon the failure of the medical devices or errors in capturing data and sharing information electronically between the patient and the physician. This, therefore, results in ethical concerns considering that such eventualities jeopardize the well-being of the patient.
Future Recommendations Regarding Privacy Rights and Ethical Principles
The use of telehealth in healthcare service delivery has proved to be an efficient method of serving patients in a timely way, regardless of distance. However, it is essential to consider some recommendations to foster better operational capacity of the system in the aspects of guaranteeing patient’s privacy and implementation of ethical principles. For instance, the medical personnel using telemedicine ought to ensure that the system is secure and free from loopholes that might provide a leeway for potential hackers to violate the privacy of patients’ records. They should also safeguard patients’ privacy rights by ensuring compliance with the state and federal privacy and security regulations.
Additionally, the physicians using telemedicine systems should observe the highest level of integrity during their medical activities. In this case, they should professionally judge whether telemedicine is appropriate for a patient before attending to them. This step ensures that physicians do not compromise their ethical obligation to offer holistic clinical care to patients due to the adoption of technology.
Telehealth and telemedicine are significant improvements in the healthcare sector as they ensure an extensive outreach of medical services. As discussed above, patients in rural areas are the primary beneficiaries of these programs. An evaluation of the use of telehealth in New Jersey reveals their applicability in promoting timely and efficient healthcare services. Cost-effectiveness and time consciousness are some advantages associated with telehealth, whereas unfavorable reimbursement policies pose a challenge to healthcare providers. The recommendations put forward focus on the improvements of telehealth in the aspects of integration on a wider scope. Moreover, telehealth use causes ethical and personal privacy issues among the patients.
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