Medicine and technology have always walked hand-in-hand. With the introduction of telemedicine into the market, things have become easier than ever. One can order medicines, self-checkup kits, first aid, and much more with a mere click! Especially, in times like these, when the pandemic has taken over the comforts, telemedicine is one thing that helps us stay connected with our doctors while sitting safely at our places.
So, what is Telemedicine exactly? Let’s explore!
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to the practice of connecting with a doctor using technology. This communication between the patient and the doctor can take place through video calls, chats, e-mails, etc making it easier for both parties to be comfortable and safe.
Telemedicine is a very effective tool that makes healthcare cost-effective, more accessible, and increases engagement. Physicians and patients can transfer information from one computer screen to another in real-time. They can even see and record readings from medical devices in another location. Patients can see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment without having to wait for an appointment, thanks to this tool called telemedicine. Patients can consult a doctor from the comfort of their own homes.
Given the particularly slow adoption of technology in healthcare, providers and physicians may still be unfamiliar with the concepts of telemedicine and telehealth. However, technological advancements and healthcare innovation have greatly expanded their applicability. Furthermore, the demand from a new generation of tech-savvy people has pushed for its rapid adoption due to the convenience, cost savings, and intelligent features it provides.
It is now time for healthcare systems, medical groups, providers, and even solo practitioners to incorporate telemedicine into their medical service offerings.
History of Telemedicine
Telemedicine, contrary to popular belief, is not a new practice. Indeed, the concept of telemedicine dates back to the nineteenth century! What began as a few hospitals wishing to reach patients in outlying areas has evolved into an integrative system spanning the entire care continuum. The history of telemedicine will reveal how we arrived at where we are now.
Telemedicine in the nineteenth century
Telemedicine was born with the advent of the telecommunications infrastructure, which included the telegraph, telephone, and radio. During the Civil War, the telegraph was used to report casualties and injuries, as well as to order medical supplies and consultations. This is regarded as one of the earliest applications of telemedicine technology.
Telemedicine in the Twenty-First Century
Dr. Hugo Gernsback featured the teledactyl in a science magazine in 1922. Gernsback predicted that this sensory feedback device would allow doctors to see their patients on a television screen and touch them with robot arms from a distance.
By 1948, the first radiologic images were sent over the phone between two medical staff members at two different health centers in Pennsylvania. The health centers were a whopping 24 miles apart! Then, in 1959, physicians at the University of Nebraska used two-way interactive television to transmit neurological examinations across campus to medical students. Five years later, a closed-circuit television link was built, allowing physicians at Norfolk State Hospital 112 miles away to provide psychiatric consultations.
Telemedicine in the modern times
Most people nowadays have access to basic telemedicine devices such as mobile phones and computers. Individuals in rural and congested urban areas can easily connect with a provider thanks to improved accessibility. Caregivers can monitor everything from vital signs to glucose levels using home-use medical devices. Physicians can gather vital medical information and make a diagnosis without requiring patients to visit a doctor's office.
Telemedicine is expected to be a $35 billion industry by 2020 and an essential component of modern healthcare delivery. The history of telemedicine demonstrates that we've come a long way from where we started, but there's still a long way to go.
What are the benefits of telemedicine?
Telemedicine, known as a technological advancement that is changing the entire healthcare infrastructure, is here to stay. Today, the emergence of telemedicine benefits patients, providers, and payers alike. Continue reading to learn how telemedicine is improving the healthcare system across the board.
How Telemedicine Benefits Providers
Telemedicine is being used by healthcare systems, physician practices, and skilled nursing facilities to provide care more efficiently. Technologies integrated with telemedicine software, like electronic medical records, AI diagnosis, and medical streaming devices, help providers with diagnosis and treatment. The latter enables providers to monitor patients in real-time and adjust treatment plans as needed. Ultimately, this leads to better patient outcomes. Physicians can see more patients using telemedicine without having to hire more staff or expand their office space.
How Telemedicine Can Help Patients
Patients who previously had limited access to health care services can now see a physician without leaving their homes, thanks to telemedicine. Seniors who want to age in place can now do so thanks to medical streaming devices. Individuals with contagious diseases are less likely to spread disease because they are not required to expose themselves to others in crowded waiting rooms.
Patients benefit from telemedicine in the following ways as well:
- With video consultations, patients can avoid spending money on gas or wasting time stuck in traffic.
- Individuals can now schedule a consultation during a work break or even after working hours to avoid missing work.
- Childcare/Eldercare Issues: It is often difficult for people to take their children or elders of the house to clinics for consultation. Those who are having difficulty finding care options can turn to telemedicine solutions.
Benefit of Telemedicine for payers
Patients with substance abuse disorders who are treated with various telemedicine strategies save payers money. Overall, the cost per treatment is lower, resulting in cost savings across the board. The cost savings will become more visible as technology advances.
Disadvantages of Telemedicine
Now that we have discussed the advantages of telemedicine, let’s now move on to the disadvantages. Providers, payers, and policymakers are all aware that some grey areas can be difficult to navigate. While the field will expand at an exponential rate over the next decade, it will present both practical and technological challenges.
Because technology advances at such a rapid pace, policymakers have found it difficult to keep up. There is a great deal of uncertainty in areas such as reimbursement policies, privacy protection, and healthcare laws. Furthermore, telemedicine laws differ from state to state and country to country.
Fewer in-person consultations
Several physicians and patients, particularly older adults, are having difficulty adjusting to telemedicine. Patients' mismanagement is a major source of concern for physicians. While advances in medicine have made it easier to use technology, system outages do occur from time to time. There is also the possibility of error because technology cannot always replicate what the human touch can.
Technology Can Be Expensive
Healthcare systems that have implemented telemedicine solutions can attest that it takes a significant amount of time and money. Implementing a new system necessitates training, and staff members may find it difficult to accept this change. Practice managers, nurses, physicians, and others must learn how to use the system for practices to reap the benefits. Although telemedicine is initially costly, healthcare systems should see a positive return on investment over time as a result of more patients and a few staff members.
Types of Telemedicine Services
Now that we have understood what telemedicine is and what are its advantages and disadvantages, let’s discuss the various types it has. Yes, you read it right! There are three types of telemedicine used today, and they are as follows:
Patients and physicians can communicate in real-time, thanks to interactive medicine, also known as "live telemedicine." Phone consultations and video conferences are two methods of communication used. The best part is the end-to-end encryption feature. Encrypted audio/video communication is sent from point to point. Identifiable health information is only shared with those who have a need to know. Using interactive medicine, physicians can assess a patient's medical history, perform psychiatric evaluations, and more.
This type of telemedicine allows providers to share patient information with another practitioner who is located in another location. A primary care physician, for example, can now share patient records and medical data with a specialist without having to be in the same room. Systems can transmit data across vast distances and between systems (at times), allowing one physician to know what another has already done. As a result, there is less duplication of testing and fewer instances of poor medication management.
Telemedicine, which is likely to be popular among patients who are aging in place, allows providers to monitor their patients in their own homes. A physician can gather and share information with their patient using patient portals. Furthermore, medical devices can transmit vital signs and other data to providers, allowing them to make care adjustments as needed.
Applications of Telemedicine
Patients now have the wonderful opportunity to connect with physicians no matter where they are, thanks to telemedicine. Patients who previously could not see a doctor due to access issues can now do so almost seamlessly. Many people may wonder about the applications of telemedicine. We'll look at some of the most common applications of telemedicine right here!
Management of Chronic Diseases
Physicians can now monitor their patients' health over long distances using high-tech medical devices. Mobile technology has enabled providers to obtain information like heart rate, glucose levels, blood pressure, and more by transmitting data from one device to another.
Telemedicine companies help healthcare organizations treat patients with chronic diseases. To that end, they've developed telemedicine solutions that can keep doctors up to date from the hospital to their homes. Furthermore, the patient, family members, and other healthcare professionals can all participate in the patient care process.
Medication management is a big deal in the healthcare industry, especially among seniors. Because older adults are more likely to forget to take their medications, telemedicine can help. Telemedicine technology allows providers and other healthcare professionals to track when and if their patients took their medication. As a result, there are fewer hospital readmissions and better medication adherence.
Diversion from the Emergency Room (ER)
The emergency room is without a doubt one of the most expensive, overcrowded, and stressful environments in healthcare. Overcrowding in emergency rooms can be reduced using telemedicine by having patients first consult with a remote physician via video chat. The remote physician can determine whether or not the individual should seek treatment in an emergency department, increasing ED efficiency.
Taking Second Opinions
There are now telemedicine solutions available that allow patients to seek a second opinion from the comfort of their own homes. Sending copies of your medical images and other documents to another physician is simple by uploading the content to their secure website. This is very convenient for those who need the services of a specialist but do not have the means to travel miles or wait for long hours.
Use of Telemedicine in ICU’s
Telemedicine can be used in a variety of ways in the NICU/ICU. One method is to use HD webcams to view the baby from various angles. High-risk infants can be seen by a specialist at another hospital in seconds by simply sharing the video. This reduces the need for infants to be transferred to a different hospital, which is both expensive and time-consuming.
Some hospitals have also set up telemedicine follow-up visits one week after a baby is discharged from the NICU. Hospitals that did this saw a significant reduction in the number of extra visits or phone calls from concerned parents.
When a disaster strikes, local healthcare resources are quickly mobilized to provide both emergent and non-emergent care. This usually leads to a shortage because the demand for services exceeds what can be supplied.
Physicians in other locations can provide assistance via video visits using telemedicine. In fact, during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, healthcare professionals made emergency and behavioral health video visits. This enabled practitioners to concentrate on high-demand, complex cases in-person rather than low-level cases that could be managed remotely.
The answer to the question "What is telemedicine?" is sometimes, simply mobile medicine. It does not necessitate a large desktop computer or a lot of equipment. Things that used to be done only in person are now simple to do on a smartphone. Modern consumers are accustomed to downloading apps and conducting simple transactions on their smartphones. The same is true for doctor's appointments.
What is needed to start a telemedicine service of your own
Starting a telemedicine practice is a big decision that requires a well-thought-out plan. While there are numerous advantages to starting a telemedicine practice, there are also some disadvantages. It is an endeavor that necessitates modern equipment, trained personnel, and knowledge of telemedicine laws.
Understand the Fundamentals
Before devising a telemedicine practice, an organization's administration and providers should understand how laws differ when telemedicine solutions are used. They should also consult with an expert to determine what equipment they will require, as well as have a basic understanding of why they want to offer this service in the first place. Furthermore, if it is an existing practice, they should obtain buy-in because some physicians are not prepared to make the transition.
Choosing Telemedicine Solutions
After laying out the fundamentals, a company should decide what kind of telemedicine solutions to provide.
The telemedicine industry is ever-evolving and has a very bright future. It is a business worth investing in and working on! This is the time to enter the market and probably make a fortune.
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