In the 21st Century, tools that allow better health management and monitoring are more crucial than ever.
People around the world are relying on technology to better understand their health, as well as connect to healthcare professionals for trusted advice and medical support.
The newest form of health technology that is revolutionizing the industry is TeleHealth, or what the Australian Government Department of Health rather coldly describes as the "use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance."
However, most people know TeleHealth as a new method for seeing their GP, specialist, or health educator via video conferencing (Zoom, Facetime, or Skype) or over the telephone.
Although TeleHealth has become a commonplace term in light of a global crisis, the technology is still evolving.
The evolution of TeleHealth
Originally, TeleHealth was posed as a solution for improving health services in developing countries. However, over the last several years, it has evolved to provide comprehensive healthcare to patients around the world.
Although internet communication has become the go-to place for virtual socialising and work meetings, there was initial skepticism of these same tools when it came to delivering health care.
In the early 2000s, there was no denying that TeleHealth could make healthcare more accessible and convenient, but patients were unsure if the technology could be trusted. Health data must be secure, and the general population’s understanding of the internet – especially back then – had plenty of understandable questions raised around data storage.
Others were concerned that the doctor-patient relationship would erode, breaking down trust. Sensitive conversations around diagnosis and treatment were regularly had in physical doctor’s practices. Online was a whole other matter.
At this point, Telehealth was a novel way of receiving and giving treatment, and despite the positives it brought to healthcare, it needed time to become a routine option for consideration.
That all changed when, in early 2020, the world was rocked by a global pandemic, forcing entire populations to social distance and take drastic safety precautions and severely limiting face-to-face interactions.
The outbreak of COVID-19 forced people into a world that demanded effective TeleHealth. As happy hours, birthday parties, and business meetings quickly resumed via video conference, health providers realised that TeleHealth was the new medium to continue care for their patients.
Now, TeleHealth has developed into a commonplace option to provide and receive care, without further jeopardising the health of patients and providers in the process.
TeleHealth services have since developed to include diagnoses, specialist appointments, treatment, preventative services, and educational training.
Anything from GP appointments, psychology services, and even specialists guiding patients through at-home treatments have all been offered via TeleHealth. There are also particular treatments and services throughout Australia that are considered Medicare-funded TeleHealth services to better serve the Australian public.
Telehealth has become increasingly important, particularly for patients who live in regional and rural areas and are forced to catch public transport, or who are required to travel a great distance to see their GP for a routine check-up. Now, patients are able to access care wherever (and whenever) is convenient for them, without sacrificing time and money.
The Impact of TeleHealth on Women
People who use TeleHealth services experience increased convenience and better accessibility to health care, but can also face the potential drawbacks of heightened concerns for privacy and trust. In many respects, these effects of engaging with TeleHealth impact women more acutely than other demographics.
Convenience and accessibility to healthcare is a huge benefit for women, in particular mothers and working professionals. TeleHealth allows women to receive frequent care for themselves and their families at the touch of a button, without the added stress of matching schedules and organising transportation, child care, or other logistics.
As such, there are many innovative companies that are contributing to the growth and accessibility of Telehealthcare. One example is Caia, the intelligent digital health and wellbeing concierge service, which connects women with vetted and trusted healthcare providers to help them better manage their health and that of their families.
Another Australia-based TeleHealth company, WellFemme, provides evidence-based menopause treatment plans via simple internet or phone-based consultations.
And of course, at Kin Fertility, we provide online assessments and doctor consultations to easily prescribe and conveniently deliver birth control pills and fertility tests directly to the patient’s door.
All of these services offer women more options to better manage their health in a way that better suits their schedules, family dynamics, and realities.
However, Telehealth isn't for everyone.
Despite the benefits, some women find TeleHealth is not the best solution for their overall health needs.
Distrust and privacy concerns can extend past data security, and change doctor-patient relationships. Seeking medical advice via TeleHealth for things like unwanted pregnancy, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and mental health concerns is not only difficult to remotely diagnose and treat, but also may be challenging for patients to openly and freely discuss with their medical provider.
For these reasons, TeleHealth could fall short in supporting women through their most vulnerable and critical health conditions. However, despite the shortcomings, the overall opportunities TeleHealth does provide can bring women closer to feelings of agency, empowerment, and control over their realities.
There is still skepticism towards TeleHealth, likely due to a lack of exposure and long-term use. It will take training, reiterations of the appropriate technology, and a clear understanding of the processes for providers to properly integrate TeleHealth into their workflows.
For women especially, TeleHealth will revolutionise how they manage their health and the health of their families. However, further technological developments, in or beyond TeleHealth, could be made to better support those women who are most vulnerable.
It's hard to say if TeleHealth will be prioritized over face-to-face health services in the future, but one thing is evident: it will be a rapidly growing and viable option for those who seek it in the years to come.