Telehealth is not all about seeing a patient on a computer screen to treat his or her condition; the clinical side is just one component of telehealth. An integral component of telehealth is distance education, which refers to situations in which the instructor and learner are geographically separated and rely on electronic devices for instructional delivery. Distance education courses are educating patients, community members and/or healthcare providers on a range of health topics.
"Providers are hungry for knowledge," says Dr. Divya Ahuja.
Dr. Ahuja is an infectious disease specialist, part of the Palmetto Health USC Medical Group. Since 2010, Dr. Ahuja has been providing distance education on infectious diseases to healthcare providers across South Carolina and across the country. It all started with HIV and now the focus is on Hepatitis C. During these weekly conferences, providers present cases of patients with Hepatitis C. The cases are discussed and evidence-based guidelines are given to help them manage their patients.
In South Carolina, Hepatitis C is a big issue. According to Dr. Ahuja, it is estimated that there are 70 to 80 thousand people in the state with chronic Hepatitis C. This viral infection is spread by blood products or sexually. In the U.S., intravenous drug use has been the biggest player in giving Hepatitis C to people, Dr. Ahuja states.
"We didn’t know about this virus until about 1989. Before that, blood was not screened for it," Dr. Ahuja says. "Hepatitis C not only affects the liver, it also affects other parts of the body. Hepatitis C is related to increase diabetes; it is related to lymphomas and kidney diseses."
But there is a cure for it, Dr. Ahuja says, and telehealth is there to help providers treat their patients in their local communities.
"Telehealth not only helps other providers. I think it makes us better also because we learn from them, from other cases across the state and around the country," he adds.