by Brook Taliaferro
I’ve been troubled by the term “telehealth” ever since we launched our Home Health Technology Summit and accompanying website and news wire. For different reasons, I’m also troubled by the term “aging in place,” which conjures up visions of carpenters, ramps and bath safety.
But the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” summon for me visions of doctors on video phones, computer screens or similar devices and I think that is facing in the wrong direction. To state a heresy, we shouldn’t want a doctor in the home. He or she is too damn busy. Likewise, nursing professionals. If the average length of a physician’s office visit is 15 minutes, we’re dreaming if we think they’re going to spend that time screwing around with Skype (and I live in Maine, where telehealth has literally been life saving for many island communities).
We want devices in the home, and we want those devices to be collecting data for health care professionals to review and triage from somewhere else.
Another problem with telehealth is that it is episodic care. Chronic conditions need continuous care that monitoring devices can deliver.
An analogy I would use from the world of our sister publication, Security Systems News, is if your security company visited your home monthly, or even weekly, to check your doors and windows to see if you’d been broken into. Most of us would agree that that is absurdly inadequate. So why is it that we happily pay to continuously monitor property but only reluctantly to continuously monitor patients?
I would suggest that thinking is about to undergo a massive change.
A study from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicted a nursing shortage of 193,000 professionals by 2020, even as the demand for care from aging baby boomers accelerates. We’re going to have to learn how to be more productive with our increasingly strained nursing work force.
Monitoring devices are a tool to help us achieve that goal. Video conferencing with medical professionals will have it’s necessary place, but it should not be the focal point of expanded patient care. Continous care through monitoring should be rising in priority.
But can we not call it telehealth? E-health works. Others suggestions are welcome.