A Comprehensive Manual to Telehealth Services and Engaging with Virtual Nurses

A Comprehensive Manual to Telehealth Services and Engaging with Virtual Nurses

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant transformation in the daily routines of Americans, prompting a reevaluation of old habits and the adoption of new ones. Notably, a major shift has occurred in healthcare services. With experts recommending individuals to stay home as much as possible, many have turned to telehealth. Instead of visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices, patients can now connect with nurses and physicians through video calls, phone discussions, and other virtual platforms.

It’s important to recognize that telehealth services were not introduced solely due to COVID-19. Even before the virus reached the United States in 2019, around 76% of hospitals were already utilizing telehealth technologies. Nonetheless, the pandemic has unquestionably accelerated the utilization of these services. For instance, the number of video consultations at North Carolina’s Novant Health surged from 200 to over 12,000 per week, as reported by The Washington Post.

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Experts suggest that individuals dealing with mild symptoms or seeking answers to basic health queries can greatly benefit from telehealth services.

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“In instances where a client reaches out to a telehealth service, nurses often provide general advice, such as using ice for a sprained ankle, elevating the affected area, and indicating when immediate medical attention is necessary,” explained Tina M. Baxter, an advanced practice registered nurse and a board-certified gerontological nurse practitioner through the American Nurse Credentialing Center.

What to Anticipate from Telehealth Services

A telehealth appointment bears resemblance to a standard in-person appointment. Patients engage in conversations with nurses, nurse practitioners, and doctors concerning medical concerns or health issues via video calls or telephone. With video conferencing, healthcare professionals can even conduct visual assessments from a distance.

During the appointment, patients respond to a series of inquiries regarding their symptoms and the medications they are taking. Patients can also pose their own questions regarding any health worries.

During the appointment, patients respond to a series of inquiries regarding their symptoms and the medications they are taking.

“Patients can inquire about general health-related matters, such as ‘What should I give my child who has a slight fever?’ to ‘How can I arrange for my mother’s respite stay at a long-term care facility?'” Baxter stated. “This enables patients to pose general questions and equips them with more specific inquiries to discuss with their primary care provider if further guidance is required.”

Medical professionals can also issue prescriptions during these virtual consultations, although not all opt for this approach, according to Lane Therrell, a family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and wellness coach specializing in telehealth.

“Prescribing rules and regulations are determined by each state and are akin to the requirements for nursing licenses and practice,” Therrell clarified. “Additionally, individual prescribers exercise clinical judgment.”

Benefits of Telehealth Services

Even beyond a pandemic context, telehealth services offer a range of advantages for both patients and providers.

Firstly, patients are spared the need to commute to a hospital or doctor’s office. This convenience is especially evident during times of public health crises, where adherence to stay-at-home directives and social distancing is crucial. However, the convenience factor remains applicable at all times, particularly for individuals residing far from healthcare facilities or those lacking access to transportation.

“Telehealth services enhance the convenience and accessibility of quality healthcare for patients… Encouraging more active participation leads to improved health outcomes,” Therrell emphasized.

Furthermore, similar to preventative medicine, telehealth services can result in significant cost savings for patients.

“Telehealth also contributes to cost reduction by acting as an ‘entry point’ into the healthcare system for patients who might otherwise seek emergency care,” Therrell elucidated. “Patients who initiate contact with a healthcare professional through telehealth may even avoid an ER visit altogether.”

These advantages extend to providers as well. Healthier patients translate to reduced demand for emergency services in the future. As a result, hospitals and medical practices can serve more patients and operate with greater efficiency.

Challenges in Implementing Telehealth Services

Several obstacles in the realm of telehealthcare stem from state-regulated licensing provisions and rules concerning prescriptive authority.

“On one hand, nurses theoretically possess the capacity to offer virtually any form of healthcare advice through telehealth,” Therrell noted. “On the other hand, nurses are bound by a highly regulated state-specific professional license system.”

Research indicates that factors like healthcare staff struggling with technology, elderly patients, or individuals with lower educational levels can also hinder the effectiveness of telehealth services.

Further complicating matters, telehealth regulations differ from state to state. These laws not only diverge in terms of defining what healthcare providers can undertake during such appointments, but also which services qualify for reimbursement from Medicare.

“Additional challenges involve safeguarding patients’ healthcare information, preventing fraud and abuse, and establishing peer review guidelines,” Therrell added. Studies indicate that elements like healthcare staff grappling with technology, elderly patients, or those with limited educational backgrounds can also impede the efficacy of telehealth services.

Telehealth services don’t present a universal solution. Individuals facing life-threatening emergencies should seek medical attention at a hospital, and patients experiencing severe symptoms, such as prolonged flu-like symptoms, should also visit a healthcare facility.

How to Locate a Telehealth Provider

Individuals concerned about contracting COVID-19 might find telehealth services particularly valuable.

“In cases where symptoms are mild, discussing the situation with a licensed professional can be beneficial in avoiding unnecessary exposure to the virus at an emergency department and preventing overcrowding, ensuring that medical personnel are available to address urgent cases,” Baxter suggested.

Several online resources aid in finding a telehealth provider. The Telehealth Resource Center enables users to search based on location. The Telehealth Certification Institute offers a search feature allowing users to narrow down options by location and type of service. Additionally, you can directly contact your regular hospital or healthcare provider to inquire about their telehealth offerings.

It’s important to note, however, that individuals exhibiting severe symptoms of coronavirus should directly seek assistance from a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions About Telehealth

What sets telemedicine apart from telehealth?

Telemedicine and telehealth encompass distinct scopes, as outlined by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Telehealth encompasses a range of health services offered by providers, which includes non-clinical services. Telemedicine specifically refers to remote clinical services, entailing the virtual provision of medical care to patients.

Can I obtain a prescription through telehealth services?

Broadly speaking, yes. However, the specific answer depends on several factors. States impose various restrictions on prescribing controlled substances via telehealth services. These regulations also extend to nurse practitioners’ prescribing authority. Moreover, the inclination to prescribe medication through telehealth varies among healthcare professionals. Presently, during the COVID-19 crisis, federal restrictions have been eased, allowing physicians to prescribe controlled substances such as buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder based solely on telephone appointments.

Does insurance cover telehealth?

In many cases, yes. “Telehealth services constitute healthcare encounters… In essence, telehealth services are billable to a patient’s health insurance,” Therrell affirmed. Nevertheless, this is not guaranteed for every state. Currently, 26 states mandate private insurers to cover telehealth services. For individuals residing in states without such regulations, it’s advisable to check with their insurance plan.

Can telehealth appointments be conducted via phone?

Certainly. While video conferencing enables healthcare professionals to visually assess patients and identify potential symptoms, vital inquiries can also be conducted via phone conversations.

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