Telehealth has the potential to dramatically change the way health-care services are delivered, such as making care more available to rural or poverty-stricken areas that have limited access to services. But it's too early to judge the full impact telehealth might have, and psychologists need to learn more about what the future might hold for this alternative form of health care, believes Robert L. Glueckauf, PhD, one of the authors of a special section on telehealth and chronic disabilities in Rehabilitation Psychology (Vol. 47, No. 1).
The issue includes a comprehensive review of telehealth and chronic illness outcome studies and two randomized controlled telehealth interventions for adults with Type-II diabetes and rural teen-agers with uncontrolled seizures, which evaluates the differences in videoconferencing, speakerphone and face-to-face counseling.
"Several promising field studies on the impact of alternative health-care delivery systems, such as telehealth or e-health, have appeared in the scientific literature since the mid-1990s," says Glueckauf, director of University of Florida's Center for Research on Telehealth and Healthcare Communications. "Psychologists need to be cognizant of these important developments. Our center and others are bringing science to bear on key questions, such as the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of alternative health-care delivery systems on prevention and treatment of chronic illness."
Glueckauf recommends that federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, fund large-scale, randomized controlled trials to test the effects of telecommunications-mediated interventions on specific health outcomes and cost utility, as well as the effects of matching consumer characteristics to specific types of telehealth technology.
"Telehealth has considerable promise as an alternative health-care method, but we need to understand what kinds of technology work best for which population and on which health-care problems," Glueckauf says.
He emphasized that telehealth is not a replacement for in-person health care, but says it may be "a reasonable supplement, particularly for those individuals who have transportation or mobility concerns and/or who have chronic health conditions that require routine follow-up at home."