Q&A: Telehealth expands reach of ID clinicians, antimicrobial stewardship programs
The Infectious Diseases Society of America recently published an updated position statement in Clinical Infectious Diseases on how telehealth and telemedicine can be applied to the field of infectious diseases, saying it supports the use of telehealth technologies in appropriate and evidence-based ways.
Infectious Disease News spoke with one of the authors of the statement, Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, co-founder and chief medical officer for TeleMed2U and an IDSA member, about the advantages and disadvantages of telehealth, the difference between telehealth and telemedicine, and the impact that telehealth has on antimicrobial stewardship. – by Marley Ghizzone
What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth ?
Although some may say that this is merely semantics, this is quite an important distinction in understanding the field of virtual health or digital health.
Telemedicine is providing health care over a distance using real-time audio and video technologies. Telemedicine is not a telephone call or simply looking at a patient’s medical health records. Through telemedicine, the patient and the provider are communicating in real time and, by means of a physician extender, the provider can conduct a physical exam.
In contrast, the term telehealth is much more encompassing. Telehealth includes all the other aspects of digital or virtual health care such as remote patient monitoring, delivering education and secure communication exchange between providers.
What are the advantages of telehealth ?
When looking at the advantages of telehealth you must also look at the advantages of virtual health care or digital health care. Telehealth allows for increased access to patient care and enables patients to have access to health care where they are physically located, whether it be their home or an alternative health care setting.
Telehealth allows patients and providers to access all the aspects of health care in a more efficient manner. In the field of infectious diseases, at the patient level, telehealth can allow for real-time monitoring of a patient’s temperatures. It allows a provider and patient to work on medication compliance for chronic disease management, and it allows for provider-to-provider secure communication, education and interactions. On a population health basis, telehealth allows for syndromic surveillance and real-time management of outbreaks.
What are the drawbacks to telemedicine and telehealth ?
The main drawback to the inclusion of technology in health care delivery is the time to adoption. As you are aware, outside of diagnostics, health care tends to be a laggard in adopting technologies to enhance workflow and communication. Like any new technology, there needs to be education and understanding of its use and development of new workflows to incorporate this technology into existing health care delivery models. Over the last 2 decades, telehealth has already demonstrated its value to the field of health care and health care delivery.
The true disadvantage to the health care industry is its delayed adoption.
What impact does telehealth have on antimicrobial stewardship ?
Infectious disease physicians and infectious diseases-trained pharmacists are the best trained professionals to oversee an antimicrobial stewardship program. As you are aware, there is a paucity of access to these types of professionals. Telehealth is a workforce multiplier that allows these highly skilled and trained professionals to reach hospitals, skilled nursing care facilities and long-term care facilities to implement and execute effective antimicrobial stewardship programs. In addition, telehealth allows for greater communication and collaboration internally and externally among experts in antimicrobial stewardship. By having secure communication, various members of the antimicrobial stewardship team can exchange information in real time and be able to impact antimicrobial selection in a more effective manner. In addition, with the continued development of rapid diagnostic technologies, telehealth allows the antimicrobial stewardship team to educate providers and staff, and make interventions that have a meaningful impact on bacterial resistance and patient outcomes.
Why was this position statement written ?
IDSA and its membership have been tremendous supporters of telemedicine and telehealth. Every year the organization and its membership continue to add to the world’s literature regarding the value of telemedicine and telehealth in the field of infectious diseases. The updated telehealth position statement allows the IDSA membership to have a framework in which to evaluate these rapidly evolving and expanding technologies into their daily work.
The updated position statement allows less experienced members of IDSA to have a better understanding of the terms and the opportunities that telemedicine offers in the field of infectious diseases. In addition, the position statement clearly demonstrates the society’s long-term commitment to the field of telemedicine and telehealth, and establishes a continued foundation for both clinical and implementation science research.
Disclosure: Siddiqui is the co-founder and chief medical officer of TeleMed2U, a telemedicine-based practice.