Thanks to telehealth services, some patients can simply turn on their device to check in with physicians and nurses for medical consultations on real-time video, rather than spending time in an examination room. As more hospitals and medical centers adopt telehealth practices, also known as telemedicine, the technology and systems that support seamless access to health care services are more important than ever.
An August 2019 survey conducted by data and analytics company Definitive Healthcare revealed a sharp increase in the use of telehealth services in inpatient settings across the country: 85% of respondents to the inpatient survey indicated that their facilities used telehealth practices, as opposed to 54% when the survey was first conducted five years ago.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth, also referred to as telemedicine, is the use of telecommunications and remote technologies to provide healthcare services - both inpatient (like specialists collaborating remotely on a hospital patient's care when face-to-face access with every provider isn't available) and outpatient (such as devices that monitor a patient's vitals from home and report results to medical providers).
Telehealth technology is transforming medical service offerings, with benefits that reach every participant in the healthcare system, from patients to payers to doctors. Telehealth systems:
With demand for telehealth services growing across sectors of the healthcare industry, standards support the technology that makes this new facet of care possible.
Both inpatient and outpatient telehealth devices almost always require access to broadband internet with sufficient bandwidth to transmit audio and video data. Video conferencing capabilities, too, are a common thread in telehealth technology. Standards have long bolstered the proliferation of broadband internet and video conferencing. The following standards are representative of many others that support these technologies in their ability to be efficient, effective, and reliable:
ATIS 0600012, Electrical Protection Considerations for Broadband Systems, developed by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), a member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
ANSI/SCTE 158 2016, Recommended Environmental Condition Ranges for Broadband Communications Equipment, developed by ANSI member and accredited standards developer the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE)
IEEE 1857-2013, IEEE Standard for Advanced Audio and Video Coding, by ANSI member and accredited standards developer IEEE
Interoperability among telehealth systems and networks is crucial to their smooth operation, as practitioners must be able to communicate and transmit data with colleagues using a variety of tools and programs to suit their needs. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published several documents that guide this interoperability, including ISO/TR 16056-2, Health Informatics - Interoperability of Telehealth Systems and Networks - Part 2: Real-Time Systems. ISO also provides general support for quality objectives and guidelines for telehealth services through ISO/TS 13131:2014, Health Informatics - Telehealth Services - Quality Planning Guidelines. These documents were developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 215, Health Informatics. The U.S. holds the secretariat for this TC, with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) serving as the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) administrator.
Inpatient telehealth services in particular rely on imaging technology or peripherals that allow a practitioner at one location to examine a patient with telehealth medical devices while information from that exam is transmitted to a remote specialist. One example of an inpatient telehealth device is a retinal camera that captures high resolution images of the eye to transfer to remote providers for analysis in diabetic screening and early detection of glaucoma. Prior to the development of this technology, the patient may have had to travel for an examination, rather than receive point-of-care services at a local facility, or be put on a waiting list to see a busy local doctor in person.
Standards guiding images for medical modeling support the functionality and interoperability of many of these telehealth devices. IEEE 333.2.1-2015, Recommended Practice for Three-Dimensional (3D) Medical Modeling, is one such standard, developed by IEEE. It details the generation and practical use of medical 3D modeling for diagnostics and therapeutic applications.
A number of guidelines developed by IEEE and ISO support outpatient telehealth, which has been slower to gain popularity in healthcare, but as it continues to evolve to meet patient needs. The ISO/IEEE 11073 family of standards guides health informatics for personal telehealth devices, improving interoperability between the devices and programs used to transmit and store data and vital signs.
Interested in learning more?
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), another ANSI member and accredited standards developer, offers further information on telehealth services and technology with a video library on their website. Areas of focus range from technology and policy challenges in telehealth, to affordable healthcare and telehealth, to how Congress can support telehealth initiatives.
With inpatient telehealth services being offered in increasing numbers across the country, and outpatient telehealth services available to some and on the horizon for many more, healthcare delivery methods are changing rapidly. Standards support these technologies to assure they are developed in a way that is interoperable and effective.