You learn that your elderly neighbor started a new blood pressure medicine and has questions about it for his doctor. But transportation is an issue, and he does not own a smartphone, tablet, or computer. He does have a landline phone which makes an audio-only telehealth appointment possible. As a result of expanded access, your neighbor can discuss his medicine over the phone with his doctor from the comfort of his own home.
Telehealth is a broad term that refers to the remote delivery of health care and information through HIPAA-compliant technology. With the development of new technologies, telehealth continues to evolve and expand.
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What Is Audio-Only Telehealth?
Audio-only telehealth is a service where patients can receive medical care over audio devices like landline phones, cell phones, and smartphones. Audio-only visits between a patient and provider usually last five to 15 minutes. The intended use is to discuss medicines, test results, and other brief medical subjects.
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Since COVID-19, the increased use of telehealth, including audio-only, has allowed many patients to access care without going into a health care facility. There are numerous benefits to these services, including:
- Reduces barriers to care such as transportation, childcare, and time away from work.
- Saves time that would otherwise be spent on travel.
- Reduces worsening of chronic health conditions.
- Reduces the number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations.
Benefits particular to audio-only include:
- Addresses the struggle rural and urban communities have with access to broadband internet services.
- Accessible to those who do not have internet-enabled devices, such as low-income and underserved communities.
- Provides an option for many older adults who struggle with technology.
Where UPMC Stands
UPMC strongly believes that all patients should receive high quality care regardless of their location and access to technology.
We support federal and state legislation that would expand the use of telehealth, including audio-only services. Since the start of COVID-19 in March 2020, UPMC has done more than 250,000 telehealth appointments over the phone. This widely used and appreciated method of delivery should continue beyond the pandemic and become a permanent resource for those patients who do not have access to broadband and/or technology.
UPMC applauds Pennsylvania Senator Elder Vogel Jr., for introducing another piece of telemedicine legislation. His bill includes audio conference as a method which health care providers can use to do clinical evaluations of their patients.