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Getting started with telehealth

In recent years there has been a rapid rise in telehealth. Health care providers are using telehealth to meet their patients' needs.

Types of telehealth

Telehealth allows you to provide health care for a patient when you are not in the same location. There are two main categories of telehealth:

Synchronous care is a live interaction between a provider and a patient. Visits may also include a caregiver, as appropriate. Examples include:

  • Video calls between a patient and a health care provider
  • Audio only calls when a video visit is not an option
  • Secure text messaging to answer patient questions

Asynchronous telehealth, also called “store and forward”, is communication or information shared between providers, patients, and caregivers that occur at different points in time. Examples include:

  • Messaging with follow-up instructions or confirmations
  • Images sent for evaluation
  • Lab results or vital statistics

There are other forms of asynchronous telehealth that patients and providers can use.

Mobile Health (mHealth). The use of a digital device such as a smartphone or something worn by the patient, commonly called a wearable, that is used to support patient health. Examples include:

  • Fitness tracker
  • Phone applications that record a patient’s exercise
  • Automatic reminders such as when to take medicine
  • Storing information or educational materials such as discharge instructions

Remote patient monitoring (RPM). The transmission of patient data and clinical information to the provider either through in-home devices or information entered and transmitted electronically by the patient.

Examples of remote patient monitoring devices include:

  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Pacemakers
  • Glucose meters
  • Oximeters
  • Wireless scales
  • Heart rate monitors

Quick Resources

Leveraging Remote Patient Monitoring in Your Practice (PDF) — from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

Telehealth for Providers: What You Need to Know (PDF) — from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

Integrating telehealth practices

There are several guides to help you start providing telehealth services — or enhance your use of telehealth.

Understanding telehealth technology options

Telehealth technologies are used for a wide range of health conditions. Help your patients understand the ways virtual tools are used to diagnose, monitor, and treat health conditions.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds telehealth centers of excellence which have cultivated resources to help providers in their journey from adoption to optimized use of telehealth. HRSA-funded regional telehealth resource centers offer providers and organizations individualized assistance, education, and information about telehealth.

Patients may have concerns regarding privacy and data security when using telehealth. These concerns could be about sharing personal health information during a telehealth visit with a provider or when using digital devices at home that collect their health data. Health care providers should always use private locations to deliver telehealth and implement reasonable Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) safeguards for protected health information (PHI), or known as identifiable personal health information.

The telehealth platform you use should meet HIPAA requirements.

You should also obtain informed consent from your patients prior to a telehealth appointment.

More information:

Technology Toolkits — National Technology Telehealth Resource Center

Telehealth Privacy Tips for Providers (PDF) — Health Resources and Services Administration  

Finding a telehealth vendor

Telemedicine & Telehealth Service Provider Directory — from the Arizona Telemedicine Program and Southwest Telehealth Resource Center, funded by HRSA. This directory lists companies providing telehealth for medical specialty services (such as radiology, rheumatology, neurology, psychiatry) and ancillary services (such as patient education and language interpretation).

You may already have access to some telehealth services, such as a patient portal with telehealth functionality built-in or you may already use a specific telehealth platform.

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Once you’ve identified what technology you already have or are considering, here are some questions to assist in researching additional options:

  • Is the product HIPAA compliant?
  • Is a contract required?
  • Does it integrate into my electronic health record?
  • Will it be easy for my patients to use?
  • Is there a waiting room feature?
  • Can staff or patients schedule visits through the platform?
  • Can patients provide consent to receive telehealth on the platform itself?
  • Will my patients need to download an application to have a telehealth visit?
  • Does it support on-demand visits?
  • What are the costs, and are they per visit or a single charge?
  • Is there a limit to the number of individuals who can use the technology?
  • Does it allow more than two participants in a telehealth session (for example, if you would like to bring in a specialty consult)?

Resources for selecting a telehealth vendor: