Telehealth, also called telemedicine, is the act of providing medical services online with the use of technology. While this idea has been around for decades — it can be traced back to the late 1960s — the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in popularity, as both patients and healthcare professionals were highly concerned about being exposed to and spreading this disease.
There are many reasons you may be interested in a career in telehealth. Because this is remote healthcare, you can have more flexibility for yourself and your family. This working environment would also be ideal if you prefer to work from home, which is possible for healthcare workers in a way it never was before with the rising commonality of telehealth.
Advantages of Working in Telehealth
As we’ve mentioned, some of the benefits of working in telehealth include having a flexible schedule, working from home, and enjoying a wide range of job opportunities. However, there are other benefits of working in telehealth and working remotely in general. These include:
- Providing care for a wide range of people: Telehealth is a great tool for reaching rural communities that have reduced access to in-person healthcare. By working in telehealth, you can help provide care to a broader range of people, not just your immediate community.
- Decreased likelihood of getting sick: This can be a huge benefit for healthcare workers, who are at an especially high risk of getting sick at work. By working in telehealth, your in-person patient care is vastly reduced, meaning your exposure to their ailments is also reduced. This can be safer for both the patient and the healthcare provider.
- Everyday savings: When working remotely, you can save money on things like gas, lunches, and other expenses you might not incur at home, such as coffee or vending machine purchases. Over time, these savings can add up.
- Increased productivity: It’s been shown that working from home generally makes employees more productive. For telehealth professionals, working remotely may increase their ability to see more patients or complete administrative tasks promptly.
- Increased job satisfaction: It’s also been shown that working remotely can increase your job satisfaction. This can be an especially impactful benefit for healthcare workers, who have faced increased burnout and professional fatigue due to the strain on the medical system over the last few years.
Qualifications for a Telehealth Career
The requirements for a career in telemedicine are very similar to those of a traditional healthcare role. There are some differences in daily practice, however; if you’re practicing medicine or writing prescriptions, you will need all the same qualifications as an in-person healthcare provider.
As with any healthcare career, employers like to see previous healthcare experience in a related field. The specific amount of experience you need will vary depending on the role. For example, specialists will likely need more experience than people who apply for entry-level positions.
If you don’t already have relevant experience, you can start by volunteering to shadow people in a role you desire. Taking classes and workshops can also be a great way to communicate professional intent to a prospective employer and can be excellent supplements to hands-on experience.
If you’re pursuing any nursing, physician, or prescribing role, then you will need all the same qualifications, licensure, and education as the traditional, in-person role.
What makes telehealth unique for non-clinical medical personnel, such as billing and coding specialists, is that there may be an emphasis on technical and IT skills. Because everything is online for telehealth, the ability to navigate databases, input data, and type efficiently becomes even more important.
You can check your state’s requirements for medical licensure and board certifications that you’ll need to practice. Because healthcare is an incredibly technical field, you can expect to earn at least some semblance of professional certification up to a doctoral degree to work in telehealth.
Even though you mainly work remotely with patients, you should still have a well-developed bedside manner. Because healthcare can be incredibly personal, you must keep your soft, interpersonal skills as sharp as your technical skills. These vital skills include:
- Time management;
All of these skills will make you more successful in the healthcare field, whether you’re working directly with patients or not.
Telehealth advancements, such as healthcare apps, have been creating all kinds of new medical and technological positions in the field. These new developments, alongside traditional institutions such as hospitals, make telehealth a lucrative job market. Below, you can find an assortment of the opportunities available in telehealth.
As a telemedicine physician, your daily duties may include:
- Monitoring prescriptions;
- Renewing prescriptions;
- Making specialist referrals;
- Treating and monitoring chronic conditions.
You should also be comfortable using telehealth to make initial diagnoses. Some telehealth physicians may also take in-person visits.
To become a telemedicine physician, you will need a doctorate in medicine, as well as licensure to practice medicine. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicians make a median annual salary of $208,000.
As a telehealth nurse, your day-to-day may include the following tasks:
Performing patient intake; Fielding patients’ questions; Communicating with the physician and other care providers; Managing chronic conditions; Providing care transitions; Supporting end-of-life care.
To practice as a telehealth nurse, you will need to be fully licensed in your state. Depending on the role you’re applying for, as well as your state’s licensure requirements, this could require either an associate degree, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or even a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Getting an advanced degree in nursing can improve your responsibility, pay, and your ability to pursue a specialization.
As a telehealth therapist, your role may include the following tasks:
- Counseling patients over the phone or via video calls;
- Creating treatment plans;
- Referring clients to psychiatry;
- Consulting with social workers;
- Reporting behavior that puts the patients or others in danger.
Telehealth therapy has become incredibly popular since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth therapists can reach more patients virtually, and some patients feel more comfortable doing sessions in their own homes.
As a telehealth therapist, you can provide a wide range of services, such as individual, family, or marriage counseling. To become a licensed therapist, you will need a master’s degree. To prescribe medications, you will likely need a doctorate in medicine.
According to the BLS, licensed therapists with a master’s degree earn an average yearly salary of $49,880.
As a telemedicine occupational therapist (OT), your daily duties may resemble:
- Creating a treatment plan;
- Advising patients;
- Performing hands-off OT like speech pathology;
- Communicating with physicians and nurses;
- Helping patients manage chronic pain;
- Teaching patients how to use assistive devices.
Most view occupational therapy as a hands-on practice; however, the application and effectiveness of OT in telehealth have been studied during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was found that OT professionals could use telehealth effectively for communication, advice, and consultations. In the future, telehealth is likely to help occupational therapists expand their reach to rural patients or patients who may not be able to leave their homes.
To become an occupational therapist, you will need a master’s in occupational therapy (MSOT). This accreditation allows you to treat both the physical and mental states of your patients, as occupational therapy can be highly connected to mental health. According to the BLS, occupational therapists with a master’s degree make an average yearly salary of $85,570.
If you’re interested in occupational therapy but don’t want to pursue a master’s, you can become an OTA — occupational therapy assistant — which instead requires an associate degree. As an OTA, you’ll be providing support to OTs, but you won’t be involved in creating treatment plans or managing assistive devices.
Because of the increased use of technology in telemedicine, qualified IT specialists are growing in demand in healthcare. Your role as an IT specialist for a hospital or telemedicine clinic could include:
- Troubleshooting telemedicine platforms;
- Designing and maintaining cybersecurity measures in compliance with the HealthInsurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA);
- Performing routine maintenance on devices and databases;
- Training employees on platform and database usage.
Because of the highly sensitive nature of healthcare technology, clinics may require or prefer IT specialists to have a bachelor’s degree in IT. Becoming an IT specialist for a healthcare organization is a great way to get involved with healthcare and community development without providing direct patient care. According to the BLS, computer specialists with a bachelor’s make an average of $57,910 per year.
Telehealth is still evolving, so joining this practice either as a medical or IT professional can be an exciting and rewarding career path. Telehealth is an incredibly flexible option for medical professionals, as you can often choose to practice remotely part- or full-time.