What Is Telemedicine?

What Is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine allows healthcare practitioners to reach patients remotely through the use of technology. With newer advan

Telemedicine allows healthcare practitioners to reach patients remotely through the use of technology. With newer advancements in electronics and telecommunications, telemedicine and telehealth could revolutionize the medical field as it makes quality healthcare more readily available.

What is telemedicine in healthcare?

Telemedicine definition

Telemedicine is the use of electronic communication to assess, diagnose, and treat patients remotely. It allows patients to skip waiting rooms and clinic visits in favor of consulting with their physician from the privacy of their own homes. Telemedicine saves time and money and reportedly makes patients more willing to speak to their doctor or adhere to their medication regimen.

Telemedicine examples

Common telemedicine services include consultations with healthcare providers through phone calls or video calls, as required by the health condition. For simple concerns, such as the common flu or diarrhea, doctors may carry out their assessments and deliver diagnoses without having to see the patient's face. Dermatological concerns may require sending photos or consultations with video conferencing.

Telemedicine is not limited to online or phone discussions. Personal monitoring devices, such as smartwatches and blood sugar monitors, can read and send your data to your physician. This allows for accurate daily monitoring and timely feedback when needed. Monitoring through telemedicine is particularly useful for elderly care and chronic disease management.

Telemedicine requirements

Most people only need their mobile phones to access a telemedicine app or online platform. Mild, common ailments can easily be identified by describing one's symptoms to a physician, who will then advise the patient on their next course of action. More complicated facets of telemedicine may require specialized equipment designed to transmit data from the collection point to the healthcare provider. These special diagnostic apparatuses may include pulse oximeters, ultrasound machines, and EKGs.

What are the three different types of telemedicine?

Presently, there are three distinct categories of telemedicine. Each has its merit and may be used to complement one another.

Interactive medicine. Telemedicine is most popularly known for real-time interactions between patients and doctors. This practice is known as interactive medicine or live telemedicine. Video conferencing or voice calls over safe, HIPAA compliant platforms may be used for simple evaluation procedures and counseling.

Store and forward. Modern communication systems allow physicians to transmit patient information to other physicians and specialists. Many rare or complex cases may be difficult to diagnose and highly-trained specialists may be located far from the original point of care. The store and forward approach makes for a more accurate diagnosis and helps doctors determine the proper course of treatment.

Remote patient monitoring. Through remote monitoring devices, patients can share their vital signs and other pertinent data with their healthcare providers. These devices may include wearable smartwatches, smartphones, EKG monitors, glucometers, and even ultrasound machines. Daily monitoring is made easier by automated transmission and any necessary adjustments may be addressed swiftly by the healthcare provider.

What is telemedicine used for?

Initial assessments and diagnoses. Waiting for a doctor's appointment may take days or even weeks depending on the problem. Telemedicine consultations can help address simple health concerns quickly. In case a second opinion or a face-to-face appointment is needed, doctors can give the patient medication to alleviate any bothersome symptoms before their next appointment.

Chronic disease management. Telemedicine helps healthcare providers manage chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. People with these chronic diseases need to come in every so often for their regular check-ups, but traveling and waiting in line at the doctor's office can make these routine visits tedious. Doctors have noted a significant decrease in missed appointments through telemedicine.

Elderly and infant care. The two age groups who need the most attention are the very young and the elderly population. The use of live telemedicine can address their needs easily without having to expose them to a hospital or clinic wherein they might acquire infections. Elderly people may be averse to technology in the beginning, but once they are accustomed to speaking with their doctor over the phone, many of them unsurprisingly prefer the convenience of telemedicine over physical appointments.

Medication monitoring. Apps and electronic journals may be used to log medication compliance so that doctors can remind patients to take their medicines when they miss a dose. Doctors can also check when a patient needs a refill and send a prescription right away.

Remote care. Telemedicine makes medical services accessible at all times. Patients from rural areas can gain access to comprehensive, specialized medical care through an online doctor. In developed countries, remote health allows people to schedule appointments during their break times or days off. The purpose of telemedicine is to make healthcare accessible, hence despite any limitations, its potential applications may arguably outweigh the disadvantages.

Substance abuse monitoring. Healthcare practitioners may check in daily with their patients and encourage them to practice healthful habits in place of damaging ones. Realistically speaking, doctors cannot physically check to see if their patients are indeed living healthier lives, but many patients might just need a daily reminder to make better choices. Telemedicine provides that daily reminder.

What are the benefits and advantages of telemedicine?

Benefits of telemedicine for doctors

Aside from being able to see their patients living several miles away, doctors can benefit from other non-clinical aspects of telemedicine. Technological advancements allow emergency room and paramedic capacities to be accessed online. This helps healthcare providers divert ambulances to less busy emergency facilities. 

During periods of emergencies, emergency rooms may be bombarded with patients, many of whom may not need critical care. Doctors can also use technology to help them identify which patients need urgent care and attend to them immediately. For patients with less serious complaints, on-call doctors from other hospitals may help by reaching them through live telemedicine, leaving the emergency room clear for more pressing concerns.

Benefits of telemedicine during COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the number of hospital visits and clinic walk-ins. Telemedicine has allowed healthcare professionals to bridge the gap between patients and doctors. Many patients, including elderly people, report feeling so comfortable with telemedicine that they would prefer to continue using it rather than return to regular doctor's visits once the pandemic ends.

Importance of telemedicine during COVID

Social distancing used to be a bizarre notion, but COVID-19 has made it the norm. Many people avoid running errands because being among other people heightens their risk of catching the disease. Hence, people have become accustomed to having their basic needs delivered to them such as groceries, water, meals, and household items. Telemedicine has become a way for people to maintain their health and catch up on medical concerns without leaving their homes

Access to psychotherapists has been crucial since the pandemic has caused many people to feel overwhelmed. Those who have been isolated from society may have developed symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Many overworked healthcare workers have been reported to suffer from mental and emotional health issues. Telemedicine is an accessible and effective tool for ensuring people's mental health.

Disadvantages of telemedicine in rural areas

The challenge of implementing effective telemedicine in rural areas is the cost of equipment and the reliability of telecommunication services. Some areas in less developed countries still lack stable internet and mobile connections. Telemedicine equipment is expensive to procure and maintain. Additionally, there is also the cost of training for the use of medical equipment and the correct application of telemedicine for healthcare providers.

Limitations of telemedicine

The most obvious limitation of telemedicine is that machines cannot effectively make up for the "human touch." Diagnoses for complicated diseases may be more difficult over the phone, despite advancements in technology. The need for follow-ups may drive up healthcare costs and require more time than conventional check-ups.

Another limitation is the legal barriers and insurance policies covering telemedicine reimbursement. An example is when a doctor from one state doesn't have a medical license to practice in another state. Insurance providers are also on the fence regarding how much to charge per session. Some insurance policies continue to charge telemedicine visits for the same amount as an in-person visit, perhaps due to the additional equipment costs. Insurance providers are also concerned about the possibility of fraud, though conventional healthcare has its risks of fraudulent transactions as well.

Privacy and security issues present another disadvantage. Whenever communications technology is involved, there is always the issue of privacy. Personal information stored online can be wrongfully accessed and distributed, whether willfully or by mistake.

Lastly, technological problems such as unstable internet and malfunctioning devices cannot always be predicted or prevented. Extreme weather conditions could cut off communications indefinitely, leaving people stranded once again in a pre-technology era.

What’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?  Telehealth vs telemedicine

Is telemedicine a form of telehealth?

Telehealth is a broader aspect of health care and includes telemedicine under its scope. The definition of telehealth is the use of technology and telecommunications to improve distance health care practice. It encompasses health education, promotion of public health, and remote instruction between healthcare professionals.

What are examples of telehealth?

One example is conducting an online seminar for health care professionals by a specialist in the field. Another is when a group of junior doctors receives instructions from an expert, such as an oncologist or infectious disease specialist when dealing with rare cases. Telehealth serves as an educational tool to help improve the practice of telemedicine. The difference between telemedicine and telehealth is that the former aims to resolve the health concerns of a particular individual while the latter aims to improve the skills and knowledge that a healthcare team needs to perform effectively.

Who uses telehealth the most?

Healthcare providers typically benefit the most from telehealth as it helps them refine their techniques and learn from specialists with extensive experience.

Purpose of telemedicine

The purpose of telemedicine is to make healthcare more accessible. Patients from rural areas, elderly patients, critically ill patients, and infants would no longer need to leave their homes to find medical experts, thus eliminating the risks caused by traveling. For patients with less pressing needs or with tight work schedules, telemedicine would help them address their health concerns with ease.

As the world grows more and more connected through technology, it is only inevitable for the medical field to reach out to patients and make their lives easier. This pandemic is only one example of how effective telemedicine and telehealth can be when used responsibly and correctly.

Cost of telemedicine

How much does it cost to start telemedicine?

The cost per telemedicine session may depend on the service provider, amount of time required, tests administered (which may require additional health tools), and health concerns. A 2017 study found that the average amount spent on telemedicine consultations was $79 versus $146 for in-person doctor's visits.

Value vs. cost of telehealth

As previously mentioned, there are limitations and disadvantages to telemedicine. Common ailments may be resolved satisfactorily, but some concerns are more efficiently resolved in person. Overall, telehealth and telemedicine are valuable tools for maintaining good health if used properly and within reasonable expectations. Medical equipment may be costly to procure but may prove to be more cost-effective in the long run.

How can I prepare for my first telemedicine call?

Before your scheduled telemedicine consultation, list down your symptoms and include the date and time for when you first experienced them. If your condition requires any photos, check if you have them on hand. Doctors will usually send you a copy of your diagnosis, instructions for management, and prescriptions so you won't need to write anything down. Remember that your call will most likely be recorded. This is a standard procedure and it helps the professionals make sure that everything they have for a proper diagnosis is on hand.

Just remember that your telemedicine session is basically just a visit to the doctor's office, albeit without long lines of sick people on either side of you.

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