What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine can be defined as an advancement in technology that makes it possible for a doctor to take care of patients remotely. This helps the patients to get healthcare services from the comfort of their home, office or beyond. Although this concept took birth in the late 1950s, it has changed rapidly from its inception. Initially, it was designed for people who live in remote places and could not reach hospital in-person. This practice is still being followed for people living in rural areas. But now it has turned out to be a convenient way to provide healthcare services. People have started to avoid doctor-visits because of the danger of being exposed to the hospital environment and also to avoid waiting in the waiting room for hours.Telemedicine began on landline phones. Then with technological advances, now you have a variety of ways to get in touch with a doctor at the time of need. These ways are online portals handled by your family physician, video calling which allows remote consultations, and applications dealt with by companies that manage Telemedicine.Telemedicine lets you discuss your symptoms and medical issues being faced to a healthcare service provider in real-time. By this method, you can get yourself diagnosed, know about the treatment options and receive a valid prescription. To monitor your condition from time-to-time, the doctor can even view your readings from special medical devices remotely.

Types

For most people, Telemedicine is just a two-way video call made to a doctor to receive healthcare services. But the reach of Telemedicine is way beyond than a meagre consultation on a video-call. It encompasses any clinical service provided through telecommunication technology. And hence below are the three types of Telemedicine available today:1. Real-time medicine: This type of Telemedicine is precisely the first picture that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Telemedicine’. Yes, it is the live-interaction between a patient and a doctor on a video call. This type has gained popularity very rapidly. This is because many Telemedicine companies offer a cheap and easy way to consult a doctor remotely and get treated immediately.2. Remote Patient Monitoring: Through this type, the doctors can monitor a patient’s essential signs and other medical data remotely. The doctors can quickly intervene when there are some warning signs and avoid the risk. But the patient must have health tracking tools related to the disease available at his home, to report the health data to the doctor time-to-time. For example, a diabetes patient should have a glucose tracker and measure their glucose levels and report to the doctor. Remote Patient Monitoring or RPM lets the doctor and patient remain in close communication.3. Store-and-forward: In this type, a healthcare provider shares a patient’s healthcare profile (lab reports, images, records, videos) to a specialist. These two doctors need not be present in front of each other physically, and the mode of transfer of information used is preferably through email

How does Telemedicine work?

Telemedicine isn’t appropriate for emergencies like a heart attack or kidney failure. But it can be used for minor issues and follow-ups. For example, if you got hurt on vacation and did not know about the medical facilities of that place, you can consult a healthcare provider online. Also, minor throat pain and fever can be relieved through remote consultations.Telemedicine solutions are required to be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This ensures the safety of the patient’s medical data.

Medical Specialties using Telemedicine

Certain medical specialties are early Adopters of Telemedicine.1. Tele-Radiology: This is the earliest field to adopt Telemedicine. In this, the patient’s x-rays and reports are securely sent to a radiologist sitting at another location and get a quick consultation.2. Tele-Psychiatry: Since this field does not require a physical examination, and due to the shortage of psychiatrists, telepsychiatry has become popular. Another reason being increasing behavioural health issues.3. Tele-Dermatology: This field uses the store-and-forward method. The patient sends a picture of a mole or rash or some other skin issue. The primary practitioner either treats it or by looking at the condition forwards it to a dermatologist.4 Tele-Ophthalmology is a branch of telemedicine that delivers eye care through digital medical equipment and telecommunications technology.5. Tele-Nephrology: It can enable nephrologists to care for in-center dialysis patients and improve6. Tele-Obstetrics: This involves an obstetrician keeping an eye on pregnancy from far. This involves the pregnant lady recording the baby’s heartbeat and sending it to the doctor for a diagnosis.7. Tele-Oncology: Telemedicine has become a convenient and accessible tool to take care of cancer patients. Sometimes the store-and-forward methodology is used while at other times, live video calls are made to the oncologist.8. Tele-Pathology: This allows the pathologists to share pathology remotely for diagnosis, education and research.9. Tele-Rehabilitation: the delivery of rehabilitation services over telecommunication networks and the internet. Tele-Rehabilitation allows patients to interact with providers remotely and can be used both to assess patients and to deliver therapy.Common Medical Conditions that are already being treated through Telemedicine :are-

  • Arthritic pain
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Cellulitis
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Cold and Flu
  • Diarrhoea
  • Insect Bites
  • Infections
  • Pharyngitis
  • Rashes
  • Sinusitis
  • Sore Throats
  • Strain
  • Sprain
  • Skin Inflammation
  • UTIs
  • Bladder Infections
  • Sports Injuries
  • Vomiting

Future Scope of Telemedicine

With fast technological advancements, the future of Telemedicine is bright. Already we have many smart devices like Google Glass and Apple Watch that can monitor a patient’s health and send the health data in real-time. Surgeons are doing robotic surgeries sitting afar. But there are certain barriers which need to be overcome to make Telemedicine a complete success. These are: state legislation posing restrictions on Telemedicine practise, licensing requirements by medical boards, and online payment issues.

Benefits of Telemedicine

1. More Accessible and Convenient: Telemedicine has changed the healthcare delivery model. It has now become more convenient and accessible, especially to aged people and people living in remote areas. You just book an appointment to a healthcare provider and get treated at the comfort of your home.2.Medical Specialists stand more accessible: Following the store-and-forward model of Telemedicine, general practitioners consult critical patients to specialists and design the course of treatment.3. Increase in patient engagement: A stronger doctor-patient bond is built using the Telemedicine technique. Telemedicine engages the patient more frequently with the doctor, and all his questions are answered time-to-time.4. Improved quality of patient care: Telemedicine ensures better patient care either after hospital discharge or employing remote patient monitoring to look after the patient. This has yielded better quality of patient care.5. Reduction in time and money: In minor health issues, Telemedicine will help you save time and money. You do not need to sit and wait in the waiting room for hours. Book an appointment online and just go live during the time of appointment.6. Fewer chances of another infection: Since you get treated via Telemedicine, you do not need to visit a clinic or hospital. This reduces your exposure to hospital and in turn, eliminates your chances of getting another infection.

Drawbacks of Telemedicine

1. Requires technical equipment and trainingThe patient requires buying some equipment to monitor their condition and also get trained to run the equipment. Also, the person should be technology-friendly to use various applications and devices and to report the readings to the doctor. Also, a proper internet connection is a must.2. Reduction in the physical examinationNo doubt the treatment via physical examination has its advantageous.

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