What is Telemedicine / Telehealth? 

Telemedicine, or telehealth, allows people to receive real-time health advice and treatment through two-way communication. It includes a variety of means and methods that allow patients to visit with a medical professional without leaving their home. It is less expensive than having an in-person appointment and is more convenient and accessible for some patients. It offers to bridge gaps in coverage caused by distance, access to transportation, time, and other issues that affect us all, and particularly seniors and members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

Telehealth Expands Traditional Health Services for All

If you need a medical specialist’s opinion, you may have to wait weeks for an appointment, or travel a long distance to see that doctor. With telehealth, your primary care physician can provide the specialist with whatever information is necessary to make the diagnosis via electronic communications, such as emailing an X-ray or test results. The specialist will perform a remote diagnosis and send the treatment suggestions back to your PCP.  This technology may provide greater access to specialists like signing mental health counselors or speech-language pathologists, when ordinarily their patients would have to travel many miles for an office visit.  In some areas, the local hospital offers non-emergency, on-demand telemedicine visits that allow patients to avoid waiting rooms full of people suffering from colds and flu.  Through video conferencing on apps such as Facetime, patients are able to visit with their providers remotely, in real time.  The visual aspect is especially helpful for hard of hearing patients, who may benefit from speech reading.

While telehealth can refer to the direct communication between patient and provider, there are other uses that also fall under the telehealth umbrella.  Wearable technology, similar to devices like fitness watches, are poised to revolutionize health care. With telehealth, a health professional in a remote location could monitor a patient’s vital signs and receive a warning when something goes awry.  Devices such as pill dispensers can be connected to monitoring systems, so a provider is alerted if a patient forgets to take their medicine.  With this technology in place, there exists a direct connection between patients and healthcare professionals.  No need to place a call if something goes amiss, as that line of communication is already opened for you by the telehealth equipment.

Telehealth and the Deaf Community

Those who are deaf or hard of hearing may use the services, although accommodations may need to be made for patients and providers who do not use sign language to communicate.  For hard of hearing people, there are other modes of communication such as email, text messages and video conferencing with closed captions. Studies have shown that telehealth is a viable method of bridging gaps in a wide variety of health care issues within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. A 2009 survey of existing studies published in Deaf Studies and Deaf Education showed that telehealth tools were successfully used to provide health education to deaf patients. Telehealth tools allowed the group to access health professionals that they may not have otherwise been able to reach. The promise shown in the study suggests that not only can telehealth help deaf and hard-of-hearing patients receive treatment for physical issues, but also for mental health problems.

Cost and accessibility issues are being addressed. For example, recognizing the growing need for remote medical treatment, Medicare has lifted some restrictions on covering telemedicine services.  It will likely prove useful in lowering costs and providing improved care to underserved communities.  Indeed, technology continues to be an important part of our overall healthcare system. If you are involved in the care of a deaf or hard-of-hearing person or you are deaf or hard-of-hearing yourself, you should investigate the possibilities offered by telemedicine and telehealth tools. To accommodate for hearing loss, equipment like amplified headsets may be added to video transmissions.  For communicating over the phone, a free amplified telephone from Florida Telecommunications Relay can improve access to telemedicine services, and access to other community resources that go along with them.  By utilizing the latest in telemedicine technology, people have yet another option when it comes to working towards good physical and mental health.