According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is ‘the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.’
It dates back to the 70s when hospitals started using the telecommunication channels in an attempt to help patients in remote areas.
Related terms include ‘telehealth’ or ‘ehealth’ which have a more broad meaning extending from telehealth to electronic medical records, and other components of health information technology.
In simple terms, thanks to advanced equipment such as monitors and trackers of vital markers (blood pressure, heart rate etc.) health care organs and institutions can provide diagnosis and treatment remotely. Even surgeries can now be performed in this manner using a robotic teleoperator system controlled by the surgeon. Other services that can be provided include:
- Primary care and specialist referral services – consultations and diagnosis. This may involve the use of live video or the use of store and forward transmission of diagnostic images, vital signs and video clips for later review.
- Remote patient monitoring – uses devices to remotely collect and send data to a home health agency or a remote diagnostic testing facility for interpretation. Such applications might include a specific vital sign, such as blood glucose or heart ECG or a variety of indicators for homebound patients.
- Consumer medical and health information includes the use of the Internet and wireless devices for consumers to gather health information and on-line discussion groups to provide peer-to-peer support.
- Medical education for health professionals and special medical education seminars for targeted groups in remote locations.
Telemedicine has many advantages, especially for patients who live in remote locations or are too poorly to make a trip to the hospital.
- Easier Access – Healthcare provider shortage in many areas means that patients in rural and some urban areas may not have access to proper care. Telemedicine has been used to access these individuals and doing so successfully. It also enables professionals to expand their reach outside their offices.
- Cost Efficiency – adopting and developing telehealth technologies has been aimed at cost reduction. It can help minimize travel time and hospital stays (observation, for example) and in turn cut healthcare spending.
- Improved Quality – According to studies the quality of healthcare services delivered via telemedicine are just as good as the traditional consultations. In some cases it has been found to exceed traditional medicine and provide an even better outcome.
- Patient Comfort and Satisfaction – the stress of travelling or being hospitalized when sick can be too much for a patient to take. Telemedicine reduces that discomfort and studies have shown increased patient satisfaction connected with the use of telemedicine.
- Time Efficiency – the easily available access to specialists can reduce waiting and travel time and therefore get patients treatment quicker as well as save professionals time and effort.
- In terms of telehealth as a wider term – it provides not only consultations but also one sided information you can access on health, prevention of disease and other health related topics.
Generally it can be said based on research and observation that the use of technological progress in medicine has been a tremendous success not only in methods of treatment but also in using different channels to perform such treatment.
Read also: What is Telehealth