The concept of telemedicine is not new to healthcare. It is now aggressively being used by physicians with around 67% of health professionals today using some sort of telemedicine or are planning to in the next few years.
Telemedicine refers to the use of telecommunication & information technology to provide or support clinical care from a distance. An interagency group of the Department of Health and Human Services, US government, further defined telemedicine as:
The delivery and other provisions of healthcare and consultative services to all patients individually and the transmission related to care, using telecommunication technologies over distance and incorporating the following activities:-
- Direct Clinical, diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic services, treatment and including all procedures where a provider may be present with the patient and clinical training and consultative clinical rounds. It can be used for decision making regarding the clinical care of a specific patient.
- Consultation and follow-up services
- Remote monitoring including the remote interpretation of results of patient’s procedures
- Rehabilitative services
- Patient education provided in context of delivering healthcare to individuals.
There are number of countries today where healthcare professionals-to-population ratio is low. Telemedicine is particularly very effective in such regions where it can facilitate the provision of medical care including all types of specialty care. It can also shorten the diagnosis & treatment process for both patients and physicians/doctors. In fact, around 91% of health outcomes were as good as the outcomes of actual clinic visits, in fact better via telehealth mediums.
Patients who are tech savvy have readily adopted and become more comfortable with telemedicine. There are numbers for everyone to believe – around 70% of people would rather have an online video visit to obtain a prescription than travel to their doctor’s clinic. Today specialists and general practitioners prefer to examine their patients through telemedicine and discuss treatment options together. This collaborative atmosphere leads to holistic, efficient and improved quality of care. Moreover, telemedicine can actually reduce the duplication of services, decreasing overhead costs of providing care. Healthcare professionals don’t feel isolated but use collaborations by facilitating contact for both patient consultations and education.
The burgeoning field of telemedicine has come up with a trend called the ‘webside’ manner, which is a virtual twist to the bedside assistance provided by nurses and clinicians. Webside assistance is a shift of the bedside care provided by medical practitioners once the initial and critical stages of treatment have passed to web via telepresence. The role of webcam resolution, internet speed, lighting and many other little factors are pertinent for webside to be a strong substitute to bedside care.
A lot of hospitals and health facilities have also come up with telemedicine clinics with the right infrastructure and facilities to carry out virtual examinations and enhance the empathetic presence of clinicians. A lot of doctors adopt telemedicine to follow up with patients they have already met/diagnosed in person. There are many skeptics who feel healthcare cannot be delivered in its essence to virtual strangers, but efforts are on to reduce apprehension and variation between virtual consultations and in-person visits. Many pilot projects have sprung up around the globe to administer healthcare to families sitting hundreds of miles away and the results have been reassuring.