With the internet enjoying ‘last-mile delivery,’ it has formed the backbone of several trades and practices that have migrated to the digital environment. Internet connectivity introduces a ‘direct to consumer approach for services, making them convenient and user-centric.
In the same spirit, due to the digital boost, telemedicine has grown phenomenally — beyond the simple patient-physician interactions. And the advent of cutting-edge technologies like chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) has brought healthcare to the comforts of our homes.
In this article, we will explore telemedicine — its definition, advantages, applications, and effectiveness.
The birth of telemedicine took place around the same time as the establishment of telecommunications technology. The scientific community has made passing references to telemedicine since the early 20th century. However, the turn of the century, that brought several technological advancements has truly spurred this field.
Telemedicine has etymological roots in the words tele- and medicine, which literally translate to — ‘transfer of medical information through telecommunication technologies to serve the purpose of consultation, remote examination, or conducting a medical procedure.’
It has emerged as a tool that attempts to bridge gaps and make healthcare more cost-effective, accessible, and patient-friendly. Initially, it was primarily aimed at reaching out to populations residing in remote or rural areas without any access to health services. However, the modern-day telemedicine definition encompasses a wide range of services, extended to all individuals to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for all.
Given that technology plays a diverse role in our lives, telemedicine can morph into niche services to suit the patient’s requirements. For this reason, it can be considered as a vast and expansive field that cannot be strictly confined to certain categories. However, for simplicity purposes, it can be broadly classified into the following three types:
1. Asynchronous Telemedicine
Asynchronous telemedicine, popularly known as store-and-forward telemedicine, relates to the sharing of patient information, like lab reports, videos, imaging studies, etc. with the concerned medical professional located in a different region. Special attention is given to confidentiality and security compliance while sharing this information.
Store-and-forward telemedicine facilitates seamless collaboration between patients, care providers, physicians, and specialists. Thus, patients can be under the care of an experienced team regardless of the geographical distance or time zone.
This form of telemedicine is highly preferred in certain specialties like ophthalmology, radiology, and dermatology.
2. Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring, or telemonitoring, enables health care professionals to track and monitor a patient’s activities and vitals even from a distance. It is normally used for high-risk patients, those struggling with chronic diseases, patients who have recently been discharged from the hospital, or elderly patients who are living at home. Classic remote patient monitoring via telemedicine would include surveilling patients with heart conditions or tracking blood-glucose levels in diabetics.
3. Real-time Telemedicine
In real-time telemedicine, patients and doctors make use of real-time video conferencing applications to communicate with each other. They will effectively save you a trip to the physician while also fetching medical help. Basically, they are similar to getting a virtual consultation.
It enjoys great popularity in offering primary care, emergency care, follow-up visits, and the monitoring-cum-management of chronic illnesses.
The adoption of telemedicine practices can benefit both the patients and the practitioners. However, it also comes with a few drawbacks. Here we will weigh in telemedicine advantages and disadvantages for the stakeholders:
Telemedicine benefits for patients:
Telemedicine benefits for healthcare providers:
Limitations of telemedicine:
On a quick perusal of telemedicine advantages, one can truly understand how it benefits the patients and the healthcare systems. Here are a few other considerations that tip the scales in favor of adopting telemedicine:
Here are a few telemedicine examples that bring to light the various applications of telemedicine in the current scenario:
Telemedicine benefits patients and practitioners in many ways. With the projected advancements in technology, the future of telemedicine looks bright and promising. The widespread usage of wearable devices that collects patient health has already set the foundations for the expansion of telemedicine. Soon enough, it will be a widely accepted practice, which will demand unified policies and strict regulations, making them on par with in-person visits.