Telemedicine was a relatively new concept in the digital world until 2020, and the global pandemic hit. The growth over the past year has been unbelievable and fast! In this article, we are going to discuss the intricacies of this fascinating and dynamic field. Let’s get started!
History of Telemedicine and Telehealth
The field of telemedicine has been changing rapidly since its inception. About fifty years ago, a few hospitals started implementing telemedicine for patients in remote areas to have access to their physicians and healthcare providers. However, rapid changes in technology in the last few decades have led to the transformation of telemedicine into a complex service used in homes, hospitals, and healthcare facilities.
The birth of telemedicine began with the inception of telecommunications technology. Telecommunications technology involves sending information to distant locations in the form of electromagnetic signals. Some of the earliest forms of telecommunications technology included the telephone, telegraph, and radio. In the early 20th century, telephone and radio had started emerging as the preferred communication technology by Alexander Graham Bell. He patented the telephone and radio back in 1876 and 1887, respectively. However, these technologies began to be used by the general population in the early 20th century.
A couple of years later, several hospitals and universities started experimenting with how they would start practicing telemedicine. Medical staff at two health centers in Pennsylvania started transmitting radiologic images through the telephone. Sources have shown that health professionals started developing this technology to make it easier for patients in remote areas to access healthcare. However, after a few years, the US government, together with medical staff, found that they could reach urban populations to solve healthcare shortages. And to quickly respond to emergencies by sharing health records of the patients and medical consultations without delays.
In the 1960s, the US government, together with NASA, the Public Health Department, the Department of Human Sciences, and the Department of Defense, heavily invested in the medical field to boost creativity and innovation in the world of telemedicine.Image Source
Telemedicine in the modern world
The field of telemedicine is changing rapidly like never before. As technology advances rapidly, so does the widespread accessibility and affordability of essential tools of telemedicine. For instance, the technology for video telemedicine exists as most of the world and US population uses video chat apps such as FaceTime and Skype for work and healthcare.
Telemedicine was created to help treat patients who resided in remote areas or areas with a shortage of medical professionals. While telemedicine was used to solve these problems, it’s quickly becoming a convenient medical tool.
The expectation for convenient care, together with overburdened medical personnel’s unavailability, has led to the emergence of telemedicine organizations. The majority of these organizations offer 24/7 care to patients with an on-call doctor hired by the company.
Other medical institutions allow their patients access to specialists and clinical staff for outsourcing. Also, other organizations provide a platform for physicians to offer virtual visits to their patients. Today, telemedicine is has become a tool to give medical practices a competitive edge in the healthcare landscape.
Another factor that has led to the rise of telemedicine is the growth of mobile health. Thanks to the wide variety of mobile apps promoting health and mobile medical gadgets that are friendly to the consumer, patients can easily track their health. Using simple medical devices, patients can quickly gather information for the doctor’s diagnosis. Patients can measure blood pressure, diagnose ear infections, and monitor glucose levels without going to the hospital.
Is It Telemedicine or Telehealth?
With interrelated fields of digital health, mobile health, and health IT, telemedicine is constantly changing thanks to new developments. In the healthcare industry, terms such as telemedicine and telehealth are usually used interchangeably.
As dissertation service reports, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that ATA considers these two terms the same. Telemedicine and telehealth comprise similar services include patient monitoring, medical education, health wireless applications, patient consultation, and medical reports transmission, to name a few.
However, in technical terms, telemedicine is a subset of telehealth. While telehealth is a broad term that entails all services that can be enjoyed using telecommunications technology, telemedicine is focused on clinical services. Telehealth involves general health services like public health, while telemedicine is a form of telehealth that involves health personnel providing medical services.
The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine
In some instances, telemedicine has a substantial advantage. Patients can easily access quality care, especially those residing in remote areas or unable to travel to the doctor’s office. It provides a way to reduce healthcare spending and engage with patients efficiently. Telehealth and telemedicine will continue to transform the healthcare model.Photo by Myriam Jessier on Unsplash
As we know, with advantages come disadvantages. Virtual interaction and technological barriers can hinder the delivery of quality healthcare. Also, while the initial telehealth visit saves time and is efficient, there has to be an office follow-up visit in some cases. However, thanks to telemedicine’s growing population, most of the cons associated with telemedicine will get resolved. Thanks to technological advancements and changes in health policies that affect telemedicine, health personnel find ways to improve this field and make it accessible in various medical scenarios.
Telemedicine has made it possible for patients to access healthcare. This helps in addressing health care shortages, especially in rural areas. Telemedicine is currently being used in the world to provide primary healthcare in developing countries. Telemedicine has the power to break geographical barriers that hinder access to healthcare delivery.
2.Healthcare Cost Savings
The United States spends more than $2.9 trillion on healthcare every year. This is the highest of all developed nations. Apart from this, approximately $200 billion of these costs can be avoided. Telemedicine has the power to reduce healthcare spending, like unnecessary visits to the ER or non-adherence to medication.
3.Acts as an extension for patients to consult specialists
Telemedicine helps in expanding access to medical specialists who are hard to come by. This makes it easier for clinicians and doctors to consult specialists on the patient to patient case. Patients with rare conditions can easily communicate with specialists regardless of their location.
4.Increased patient engagement
Today, patients live in an increasingly interconnected world. And they expect to have a unique healthcare experience. Telemedicine improves patient engagement levels by allowing them to communicate with their doctors frequently. This means that all of their questions will be answered, leading to a strong relationship between the doctor and patient.
5.Quality patient care
Telemedicine makes it possible for health personnel to communicate with patients and ensure that everything is okay. Telemedicine leads to better outcomes by doing a video chat to answer questions monitoring the patient’s heart.
1.Requires technical training
Like other technological solutions, telemedicine platforms usually require equipment purchases and training. The cost is dependent on the condition and solution.
2.May reduce in-person interactions
Some people argue that telemedicine can reduce in-person interactions with health personnel. In-person visits are necessary and valuable in most circumstances. However, for minor conditions, telemedicine can save the patient and save time for the health personnel.
Telemedicine can be used to offer a wide range of health services. Some of the conditions that a primary doctor can treat using telemedicine include Asthma, allergies, infections, rashes, insect bites, sinusitis, bladder infections, vomiting, and respiratory infections. Telemedicine services range by specialty. With all these benefits, patients and health practitioners should embrace telemedicine.