Advances in technology continue to influence the lifestyles and routines of most people. It’s now possible to automate chores like vacuuming, earn college degrees from home, and create more accurate grocery lists. The world of at-home and remote health care isn’t any different. Without tech and reliable online connections, many digital patient care options wouldn’t exist.
The availability of virtual health care options gives doctors and patients flexibility and convenience. Enhanced data makes personalized recommendations and treatment possible. And several trips to the doctor and pharmacy are no longer required to receive routine care. Online prescriptions, telehealth, health-related apps, and at-home lab testing are ways tech is helping patients reduce their in-person visits.
Online and Mail-Order Prescriptions
Picking up prescriptions from a neighborhood pharmacy doesn’t seem like a big waste of time. But after you drive there, wait in line, answer questions, pay, and leave, you realize how inconvenient it can be. If you refill medications every month or have multiple prescriptions, pharmacy visits become a dreaded chore. You’d rather put it off or avoid the task completely.
Fortunately you can with the help of technology. Electronic health systems and records have made coordination between health care practitioners, pharmacies, and insurance companies more efficient. Many pharmacies and insurance providers facilitate mail or same-day home delivery of your prescriptions. For ongoing meds, choose automatic refills and 90-day supply options to reduce the need for follow-up or manual requests.
You can also get new prescriptions for medications like birth control without an in-person doctor’s visit. Typically, patients submit information online about their request and health history. A medical provider reviews everything and writes a prescription or an order for lab tests if appropriate. Patients pay a consultation fee and can use insurance or pay out of pocket for prescriptions or tests.
Virtual Visits and Remote Monitoring
Telehealth capabilities extend beyond getting on a video call with your doctor, allergist, or counselor. The CDC outlines three ways telehealth allows health care providers to deliver patient care. Besides real-time virtual visits, there is asynchronous care and remote patient monitoring.
Asynchronous care involves collecting patient data that are transmitted electronically to a medical provider to review later. For example, you might upload or transfer at-home lab test results to your primary doctor through a patient portal. They integrate the information into your health profile and follow up with you to recommend the next steps.
Remote patient monitoring, on the other hand, involves sending data directly to a doctor. Information could include vital signs (such as blood pressure) measured by wearables. Sometimes these details are transferred in real time but could be reviewed after the fact.
Remote monitoring has the potential to cut down on doctor visits for patients with chronic health conditions. Doctors can rely on the technology to follow up with patients after hospital or ER visits. Plus, providers can also reach patients in communities with limited health care access.
Health Care Apps
Mobile health care apps are popping up faster than most patients can count. As of 2018, 318,000 health care apps were available for download, with 200 more in the works every day. Browse an app store, and you’ll find health-related tracking software for nearly everything.
You can monitor your blood pressure with apps like SmartBP, track sleep patterns with Fitbit, and meditate with Calm or Headspace. There are also provider-specific apps that give you access to appointment scheduling and your medical records. Apps generally fall into one of two categories: health care or wellness. Health care software helps you and your medical providers diagnose, track, and treat disease. Wellness software allows you to monitor and boost your overall health.
However, the line between health care and wellness software is becoming more blurred. Mobile software geared toward making nutrition recommendations based on your DNA would fall under the wellness category. So would a fitness tracker app that logs how restless you are during sleep.
But you could share genetic markers and sleep patterns from these apps with your doctor to augment other data. Information like this could substantiate patient claims and may eventually replace additional tests or observations. For now, health care apps exist for treating conditions like acne and diabetes, reducing the need for in-person visits.
At-Home Lab Testing
Think you need to schedule an appointment with your doctor to test your thyroid or determine if you have allergies? Not anymore, thanks to the technology behind at-home lab tests. You can now use a kit to help screen for a variety of health conditions, viruses, and diseases. You usually request these lab tests online, and they are shipped directly to your home.
The lab or diagnostics company allows you to create a profile that stores some basic information, such as your age. You order the lab tests you want, paying through your insurance or out of pocket. Once you receive the kit(s), you follow the directions to collect your samples and mail them back to the lab. After the diagnostics company tests your samples, they send an email notification that the results are ready. You can then log back into the online portal and view them.
Depending on the results, you may receive additional information or recommendations for following up with a doctor. However, at-home lab kits allow you to collect samples in private and according to your schedule. Confirming you don’t have a virus or disease marker also provides peace of mind without having to discuss sensitive information.
In-home or remote health care might bring up images of doctors and nurses visiting houses with bags of medical equipment. While house calls are making a comeback, tech is spearheading the rise of new health care conveniences and treatment options. Many of these, including online prescriptions, let you skip some doctor and pharmacy visits altogether. With technology, health care experiences are increasingly in the hands of patients.