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What Is Telehealth?

Natalie Stein
April 16, 2020
What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth involves the use of technology to access health services and manage healthcare from a distance. Though it has been used to some extent for over a century, telehealth is now an integral part of mainstream healthcare. Recognized as effective and cost-effective, telehealth services are commonly covered in Medicare and other plans.

Lark is an example of telehealth with proven outcomes related to disease prevention and chronic care management. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Lark is infinitely scalable and able to deliver personalized programs quickly and efficiently to meet rapidly increasing needs of payers.

What Is Telehealth?


The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines telehealth as, “the use of telecommunications to deliver health-related services and information that support patient care, administrative activities, and health education.”

Early examples of telehealth include patients having an appointment with a healthcare provider over the phone rather than in the office. Telehealth now includes a variety of technologies to improve patient health and lower costs. These are some examples.,

  • Mobile health (mHealth), or education and information through mobile devices, such as coaching from Lark around chronic disease prevention and management.
  • Remote patient monitoring, or recording patient data, such as blood glucose or blood pressure collected by Lark, for a remote healthcare provider to review.
  • Personal health records, or your health information that you can access yourself from any web-enabled device.
  • Communicating with doctors and other professionals via online patient portals, email, and video chats.
  • Referrals to such providers via apps, such as Lark.
  • Using the web to access health information and order medications and medical supplies.

Why Is Telehealth Important?


Telehealth is important for improving health and for lowering healthcare costs. It has been covered for years for limited uses, such as providing specific services to rural patients, but has only recently become covered for more uses with fewer restrictions.

Widespread changes during the COVID-19 pandemic included further acceptance of telehealth as part of basic healthcare. Expanded coverage led Medicare beneficiaries to get services, from providers such as doctors, nurse practitioners, and social workers, remotely via email, phone call, or video chat. This allows at-risk patients, such as older adults and patients with diabetes or hypertension, to get care without potentially exposing themselves to infected individuals at an in-person clinic.

There are many reasons why telehealth is so important in improving patient health.

Increase access to primary care

Patients in rural areas may have trouble getting to appointments if they are far away, while patients with low socioeconomic status may not have transportation to appointments or may not be able to take time off work to go to the clinic, have the appointment, and return. Remote appointments can enable access to care.

Detect problems earlier

Remote patient monitoring and frequent reminders to test blood sugar or pressure, for example, can lead to early detection and subsequent treatment of possible problems, such as a rise in blood pressure indicating higher risk for hospitalization.

Increase and chronic condition self-management and wellness behaviors

Remote care could be delivered more frequently, allowing for better self-management and wellness behaviors such as eating well, taking medications, and being physically active. Higher engagement and more wellness or condition-specific education can also lead to healthier daily choices. The amount of weight loss seen in Lark Diabetes Prevention Program, for example, has been associated with lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Increase access to specialty care

Small healthcare facilities cannot afford to keep full-time specialists on staff, but telehealth allows for remote services, such as radiologists reading CAT scans. 

Greater satisfaction

Patients tend to be happier when they do not need to wait as long for care or travel as far.

How Telehealth Can Lower Healthcare Costs


If telehealth uses the latest technology and is linked to better patient outcomes, it must be expensive, right? Wrong! Telehealth services can be lower or comparable in cost to in-person services. Plus, improved health, as described above, can mean lower overall healthcare costs.

1. Fewer ER visits and hospitalizations

Trips to the ER and hospitalizations are costly, and often preventable. For example, patients with diabetes who have better glycemic control are less likely to have dangerously high or low blood sugar requiring medical care. 

2. Less expensive delivery of services

Telemedicine appointments can be less expensive than in-person ones, which not only reduces costs in itself, but also enables doctors to take on more patients.

3. Sharing costs of specialists

Sharing the cost of specialists with other facilities enables small facilities to have specialists available without needing to pay the full cost of their salaries.

Lark is an example of telehealth with the potential to lower healthcare costs. This mHealth intervention is delivered via smartphone app and has the ability to reach remote and underserved populations. It can improve health by collecting patient data and enabling RPM, and by coaching users on lifestyle choices to lower chronic disease risk or to manage conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes if they already have them. It can reach more people because it is infinitely scalable.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) vs. Human Telehealth


Artificial intelligence (AI) aims to mimic human reasoning, problem-solving, and thought processes using computers or other programmable devices. Rather than having a human nurse responding to patient messages in a chatbox, for example, AI might involve automated responses that are generated without any human intervention.

While there are some things that humans will always be better at, AI has many roles in telehealth. These are some advantages of AI telehealth.

1. Relieve Provider Shortages:

The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortage of over 122,000 doctors by 2032, and nurses are also going to be in short supply. Artificial intelligence nurses, such as Lark, can relieve the burden in a few ways.

  • Taking the place of nurses for routine questions, such as how to take blood sugar or which food choices are best for blood pressure.
  • Connecting patients to doctors when needed without raising the alarm for unnecessary appointments.
  • Keeping patients healthier to limit trips to the doctor.

2. Increased availability

An AI coach such as Lark is available all the time, including weekends and overnight, which is when patients may have questions or need support.

3. Better trust Trust/relationship

The user experience with AI is having the same provider all the time. This allows the patient to build a relationship and develop trust, in contrast to patients who might reach a different nurse each time they call a center. An AI coach could, for example, notice that a patient typically eats poorly on a certain night of the week, and ask the user to consider eating healthier foods on that night. This degree of familiarity is not likely with live humans.

4. Better insights

Artificial intelligence constantly gets smarter as its responses are based on its previous interactions – often thousands or more. Lark, for example, might be able to notice a trend in higher blood pressure readings together with reduced activity, while a human may not notice that. Or, Lark might ask the patient if she is sick if her blood sugar reading is higher than normal, whereas a live nurse would not have the ability to reach out in the moment.

5. Lower costs

With AI, there is no need to hire and pay more providers when the patient population expands. Instead, an AI coach can be infinitely scaled, at cost, to respond to growing needs. There will be no lag time for hiring, either.

Telehealth is here to stay, and for good reason. It can improve patient health and lower healthcare costs, and the benefits can be even greater with AI. Lark is a telehealth program, delivered by a smartphone app and powered by AI, that is available 24/7 to patients to establish healthier lifestyle habits and help triage when necessary. It is infinitely scalable at cost and delivers personalized programs to each patient.

 

Written by Natalie Stein on April 16, 2020
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