Telehealth has the potential to reduce demand for physical healthcare infrastructure through the following services:
- On-demand virtual urgent care: A direct alternative to emergency department visits.
- Virtual office visits: A direct alternative to general practitioner consults.
- Virtual home health services: Services such as patient and care giver education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can all be delivered remotely.
- Tech-enabled home medication administration: Where patients can receive some drugs from home.
Telehealth and healthcare services at a distance are demonstrated across the three following emerging technologies with proven application:
- Artificial intelligence can enhance the quality of healthcare services, such as through keeping people well, detecting disease early, diagnosing illness and providing optimised treatment options.
- The Internet of Things can increase the availability of data related to the performance, impact and monitoring of medical devices, individual health and health infrastructure. Devices and sensors can be implanted or worn to measure health performance, trigger alerts and send reports to medical professionals when issues are detected.
- Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) increase the ability to deliver healthcare services at a distance, such as by conducting clinical appointments remotely.
The importance of telehealth services became apparent during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when 17 district health boards collectively experienced a 100-fold increase in telehealth consultations, to 34,500 per week. There’s evidence that some of these effects have been sustained.152