Telemedicine: Advancing Towards the Future

What is Telemedicine?

We’ve heard this term a lot of times in the recent future, but how much do we really understand it? Telemedicine refers to the advancements in healthcare and information technologies to provide remote clinical services to patients. What kind of services are included? It ranges from digital imaging, video consultations to remote medical diagnosis.

With the marriage of healthcare and technology, we see an increasing number of people accessing medical professionals and services from secure video and audio connections. The need to be physically present in a clinic for diagnosis is rapidly decreasing as newer facets of telemedicine replace the older, conventional ones.

How did Telemedicine come about?

Even though it has gained popularity just now, this concept actually dates back to the 19th century! That is thanks to certain communication inventions such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio. During the Civil War, the telegraph was used to report casualties and deaths as well as for ordering medical supplies and consultations. By 1879, a discussion on how the telephone could reduce the number of unnecessary office visits was already in talk.

In 1925, Dr. Hugo Gernsback, illustrated an odd invention called the “teledactyl.” He imagined a tool that would let physicians see their patients through a television screen and touch them with robot arms, with no obstruction of distance. This invention never got past the concept stage, but it defined telemedicine for us today – a remote video consultation between doctor and patient. From there on, this idea has only broken newer and bigger barriers to emerge victorious as a concept.

Benefits of Telemedicine

  • Ease of accessibility, especially in rural areas
  • Convenience
  • Reduced hospital/clinic costs
  • Assistive technology for diagnosis
  • Electronic medical records 
  • AI diagnosis and medical streaming devices
  • Minimization of challenges such as transportation, work commitments and childcare/eldercare challenges.
  • Improved and faster patient to doctor, doctor to doctor and doctor to specialist communication
  • Better quality of patient care

Challenges of Telemedicine

  • Unclear policies regarding reimbursement, privacy protection, and healthcare laws
  • Geographical influence on laws
  • Occurrences of system outages
  • Patient mismanagement or errors
  • Expensive technology
  • Investment of time for healthcare workers to learn about a new system
  • Reduction of in-person patient-doctor visits

Telemedicine versus Telehealth

Telehealth refers to the collection of information and methods to enhance public health or health education with the help of telecommunications. It is possible to interchange these terms. However, they have different meanings, which can be best understood with the following app examples:

Telehealth: A public health app that alerts the public of a disease outbreak or  video-conferencing platform for medical education.

Telemedicine: A mobile app that lets physicians treat their patients remotely via video-chat or software solution that lets primary care providers send patient photos of a rash or mole to a dermatologist at another location for quick diagnosis.

Telemedicine in today’s time

Success achieved by telemedicine has been inconsistent up until now. In both industrialized and developing countries, this technology has yet to be permanently employed in the health care system to deliver routine services. Still, it is expected to be a $35 billion industry by this year. And it seems like COVID-19 is going to boost this industry even more.

The emergence of COVID-19 forced the entire world to move digital. Along with schools and offices making the shift, the healthcare sector finally advocated strongly for the potential of telemedicine. Both the CDC and WHO supported this concept for monitoring patients and reducing the risk of spreading the virus by traveling to hospitals. This concept has been an attractive solution in this time, providing for patients with other ailments while filtering patients of COVID-19. 

It might be possible that this growth of telemedicine is influenced by the unique situation we are living in. It’s possible that its use will be forgotten by the end of this pandemic, only to be remembered during the next. Despite what happens, its merits deserves to be appreciated. Today, we are inseparable from technology and its numerous devices. This accessibility to technology by urban and rural individuals alike is what makes it possible for caregivers to monitor their patients. Gathering patient’s essential medical information for diagnostic purposes becomes easier for a doctor virtually.

It’s a long road for Telemedicine

Telemedicine has a lot more potential than its shortcomings. In the near future, its role in disease management, maintenance of medical databases, disaster relief, mobile health and emergency services will be vital one. However, the implementation will take its time and run its course before being appreciated for the potential it holds. We hope to see more and more applications of this new concept governed by cohesive policies that will ensure the best health of a nation.

REFERENCES:

1. What Is Telemedicine? Available from: https://vsee.com/what-is-telemedicine/. Accessed on 11 May 2020.

2. The Ultimate Telemedicine Guide | What Is Telemedicine? Available from: https://evisit.com/resources/what-is-telemedicine/. Accessed on 11 May 2020.

3. COVID-19 and the rise of Telemedicine. Available from: https://medicalfuturist.com/covid-19-was-needed-for-telemedicine-to-finally-go-mainstream/. Accessed on 11 May 2020.

4. What Is Telemedicine? Available from: https://www.goodrx.com/blog/what-is-telemedicine/. Accessed on 11 May 2020.

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