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Guest Column | Telehealth Is the Best Medicine for Our Community

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  • Written By: Mee Memorial Healthcare System
Guest Column | Telehealth Is the Best Medicine for Our Community

Telehealth is the use of electronic communications to provide and deliver health care services over large and small distances. Also called digital medicine, this modern advancement represents a major shift in both the administration of medicine and in the venues where it’s provided.

At Mee Memorial Healthcare System, we use telehealth as a valuable tool to help expand access to and improve the quality of rural healthcare. This helps reduce or minimize challenges and burdens patients encounter, such as transportation issues related to traveling for care. Telehealth can also improve remote monitoring, timeliness and communications within the healthcare system.

Currently, Mee patients can attend appointments and consult with providers via online video-conferencing. And our new Virtual ER can connect patients quickly and seamlessly to a medical provider from Mee Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. This five-minute process will help patients decide if they should come directly to the ER in King City or if an online consultation is more convenient. If an ER visit is necessary, they will receive updates on wait times, and the hospital can preorder any needed tests.

Virtual ER, the first of its kind in Monterey County, represents a faster way to provide initial care from the comfort of a patient’s home, with three easy steps:

  1. Complete a basic registration.
  2. Describe the medical problem they are experiencing.
  3. Arrange an ER visit, if necessary.

Of course, with new technologies there are always challenges. With digital medicine — including technology-enabled remote monitoring, diagnosis and patient treatment — it’s important to establish best professional practices and standards of care comparable to the more conventional formats.

These telehealth services are meant to supplement, not replace, in‐person consultations with healthcare providers. Patients should continue to maintain a relationship with their primary care physician, and seek emergency help or follow‐up care when recommended by a provider or when otherwise needed.

This current telehealth wave has been driven mostly by patient needs. A study conducted by Parks Associates revealed that even as far back as 2017, 60% of U.S. households with broadband access were already greatly interested in receiving remote care that could take place online or by phone.

Our country has seen a rapid expansion in telehealth, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when patients and providers sought to decrease in-person contact for routine visits. This has elevated public health consciousness. In fact, it’s estimated that virtual care visits in the United States will soon soar to more than 1 billion per year.

Telehealth provides many potential benefits, including increased access to healthcare and specialists and the convenience of accessing providers from a personal computer or smartphone.

It also allows smaller hospitals to bring in distant specialists remotely, reducing travel time for both specialists and patients. Perhaps more importantly, it allows patients to participate more effectively in their own healthcare, improving the overall experience with enhanced engagement and better outcomes.

Technology is all around us. If you own an Apple watch or something similar, you’re already familiar with the assortment of health tracking features and motivational reminders about your behavior. These devices can help you meet your sleep goals, track important information related to your heart, check your blood oxygen levels, and encourage you to wash your hands.

Even more sophisticated features are on the horizon, along with the potential for analyzing and sharing that information with your doctor. And the public acceptance of this technology continues to grow.

Of course, this new technology leads to a few concerns, including a lack of internet access in some areas. As a community we need to help narrow the so-called digital divide to ensure there is equal access to important information.

There are also privacy issues. Mee is required to comply with all federal and state health care privacy and security laws regarding the safeguarding of your personal health information.

In the end, the driving force behind digital medicine is straightforward — bringing quality healthcare to the patient instead of bringing the patient somewhere else to receive healthcare. It has the potential to prevent disease and lower healthcare costs, while helping patients monitor and manage chronic conditions.

Combined with Mee Memorial’s human touch, it becomes the best medicine for everyone.