The turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic has facilitated a rapid and significant increase in the adoption of telehealth or telemedicine. The concept of telehealth has enabled health care providers to treat patients remotely through smartphone applications and website portals, which limits unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus.
Although everyone is affected by the unprecedented wave of the pandemic, people with disabilities are at a higher risk. They are more vulnerable to the influence of inaccessible or low-quality healthcare services than others. A report by the UN that analyzed data among 43 countries revealed that 42% of persons with disabilities perceive their health as poor versus 6% of persons without disabilities.
Thus, telehealth-based digital interventions can prove beneficial in providing quality healthcare and improving the situation among people with disabilities during the pandemic. In this article, we discuss the various aspects of how telehealth can improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Telehealth and Disability – An Effective Connection
Telehealth is a crucial part of Smart Healthcare – the integration of digital technologies into conventional healthcare systems, which increases the quality of healthcare facilities and enhances the experience of the patient. Other smart healthcare systems include a Smart Cabinet and Electronic Health Records (EHR).
Telehealth involves the utilization of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to offer a plethora of healthcare services to patients without personally requiring them to interact face-to-face with their healthcare providers. The applications used for telehealth consultations may constitute audio or video conferencing between the patient and the healthcare provider.
The telehealth applications can be used for:
- Remote monitoring of vital signs
- Follow-up consultations
- Patient education and care coordination
- Disease management
- Data transmission – X-rays, photographs, audio, and video files
In the case of disabilities, telehealth has opened the doors of health services for disabled patients. Disability is a complex, multidimensional, and influential challenge. It can substantially narrow down or derail the daily functioning of an individual.
Some of the most common conditions that are considered as disabilities are arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, injuries, nervous system disorders, and even mental illnesses like depression.
Persons with disabilities are a vulnerable population with unique social, environmental, and economic disadvantages. The inconsistencies revolving around this population can compromise their health and ultimately lead to worse healthcare outcomes. Disabled persons are also less likely to have a regular healthcare provider.
Since the management of disability often needs specialized care, telehealth can save the effort and time spent by these patients in reaching the clinic or hospital for undergoing the treatment at home. It can effectively improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities through active digital engagement and self-management strategies.
Benefits of Telehealth for Disabled People
Telehealth is an innovative and viable alternative to manage the ongoing care and recovery of the disabled population and their caregivers who lack transportation to urban-based rehabilitation. The use of modern mobile technologies has created new opportunities to improve the accessibility and quality of medical care for many people with disabilities.
The following pointers can explain how disabled people can benefit from telehealth and, in turn, improve their quality of life:
- Healthcare providers can monitor patients in their home environments simply by health information transactions via smart technology.
- Information about the patient’s health status, i.e., body vitals, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, bodyweight, etc., can be interpreted by the healthcare team without the need to visit the doctor’s office.
- A patient can reduce his stay in the hospital and can slowly recover at home. As a result of this, the patient can reduce his burden to travel long distances, save time and costs, and improve his life.
- Telehealth is a great tool for low-income people from remote areas, including rural and parts of urban areas, who would otherwise face great difficulty in accessing quality healthcare.
- Since telehealth technologies are home-based, they can be used to optimize community integration skills or ways for people dealing with severe kinds of functional disabilities.
- Telehealth is a valuable support in children with disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, genetic diseases, depression, mental retardation, and behavioral problems. Such children require special healthcare requirements, and telehealth has helped improve the lives of families of these children by permitting them to retain them at home.
- Telehealth technologies can also provide self-care management, follow-up, and booster interventions.
- In the current pandemic situation, wherein most hospitals and healthcare facilities have begun treating COVID-19 patients, telehealth can save the person from unnecessary exposure to the virus.
To summarize, the beneﬁts of telemedicine for persons with disabilities include lower transportation costs, lower cost of care, improved medication reconciliation communication, decreased need for paid personal assistance services, and even less exposure to communicable diseases, especially during a pandemic.
Telehealth involves a personalized blend of support systems, including technology, environmental accommodations, and self-management strategies. States and health systems must continue to work with people with disabilities, and the goal should be to make telehealth accessible and functional for everyone. It should be relevant both during the current pandemic and for quality care in the coming years.
- COVID-19 Outbreak and Persons with Disabilities, 24 July 2020.
- Disability and Health Related Conditions, September 16, 2020.