What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to delivering medical services from a doctor to a patient over the air. It involves the adoption of video conferencing and telecommunication infrastructure to make health services available to individuals who cannot meet physically with doctors. Telemedicine health services as we know them originated in the 1950s when doctors communicated with specialists over the phone to share information.1 This helped doctors in rural areas without access to specialists treat patients needing special attention. Telemedicine services, however, failed to catch on early due to the difficulty of high-quality video transmission before the rise of the internet.
How Telemedicine Works
Telemedicine health services have seen significant improvements over the years and have become much more than doctors getting guidance from specialists over the internet. Telemedicine services now allow individuals to receive consultations from healthcare providers without leaving the comfort of their homes. In addition, with telemedicine, physicians can conduct examinations, diagnoses, and even treatments over telecommunications infrastructure.
To make use of telemedicine services, individuals can either reach out to the healthcare provider over their own communications service or with the help of a telehealth center. Reaching out to a physician on an individual’s own can be done through special telehealth apps or over a dedicated telehealth line. Individuals may have to visit a telemedicine kiosk for examinations that need more than instructions from the doctor over the internet. These are equipped with telescopes and blood pressure monitors, which allow a more thorough examination.
What is the Use of Telemedicine?
The convenience of telemedical services makes it extremely useful in different scenarios as an alternative to visiting a hospital or having a physician visit you. Some situations where telemedicine services are most useful include diagnosing common, minor health conditions such as back pains and migraines.2
Telemedicine services can help physicians recommend home treatments for minor conditions that don’t even require a visit to the pharmacy. Follow-up checkups following treatments can also be conducted over the air. Telemedicine can help individuals access medical attention when they can’t leave their homes due to adverse conditions or unavailable physicians.
Common Types of TelemedicineThere are three major types of telemedicine.
These telemedicine services are often done in real-time and cater to individuals who require prompt medical attention. Interactive telemedicine services can take on different forms, including phone calls, video calls, and even home visitations. In addition, interactive telemedicine will often include examining the individual’s previous medical history, a review of the symptoms, and an evaluation by healthcare personnel. These consultations usually take the form of regular face-to-face clinical consultations.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring, also known as telemonitoring, allows a physician to keep track of individuals’ vitals and clinical signs without having them visit the hospital. This is enabled by using home testing kits that allow individuals to test themselves on their own or with the help of a family member. The results of the tests are then sent to the telemedicine doctor for evaluation. Telemonitoring is especially useful for individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions that require regular tests.
Store and Forward
Store and forward telemedicine represent the earliest form of telemedicine health. It allows a team of healthcare professionals to collaborate to treat an individual without being together physically. Store and forward or asynchronous telemedicine enable physicians to share an individual’s medical records with specialists for detailed interpretation. Asynchronous telemedicine is primarily utilized in fields such as pathology and radiology. For example, a physician can take test results and forward them to specialists, allowing individuals access to a complete care team.3
Telemedicine BenefitsTelemedicine takes advantage of developments in technology and telecommunication infrastructure. The following are telemedicine benefits for both patients and healthcare providers.4
- With telemedicine services, individuals can take less time off work for health consultations and clinical checkups.
- Since individuals don’t need to transport themselves to the hospital or a specialist, they don’t have to worry about racking up travel bills.
- Access to telemedicine services allows individuals to take care of their children or elderly relatives as they don’t have to leave their homes to meet their telemedicine appointments.
- Individuals can attend telemedicine consulting sessions from the privacy of their homes, a plus for privacy-conscious individuals.
- Telemedicine in the healthcare industry generally brings ease to healthcare providers. The number of individuals they have to attend to physically reduces with telemedicine healthcare. This, in turn, reduces their workload.
- Since telemedicine equipment costs aren’t over the top, telemedicine doctors can increase their revenue as they can attend to more telemedicine appointments without needing to hire extra hands.
- Many telemedicine apps contain tools such as electronic medical records that help streamline attending to individuals and boost the efficiency of the physician’s workflow.
- The convenience of telemedical services allows individuals to meet up with their appointments. Telemedicine doctors can also send reminders ahead of their appointments.
- Most states have laws to prevent insurance companies from withholding the reimbursement of telemedicine doctors.
- Follow-up Visits: Individuals are less likely to miss telemedicine appointments than regular appointments as they are significantly more convenient. Moreover, patients are not requiring them to leave their homes.
- Remote Chronic Disease Management: Individuals suffering from chronic diseases can manage them much more easily as they have to make fewer visits to the hospital and can do most of the tests on their own.
- Remote Post-hospitalization Care: Studies have revealed that individuals who take advantage of telemedical services post-hospitalization care have a lower chance of being readmitted than those who undergo regular post-treatment care.
- Preventative Care Support: Telemedical services help make health professionals more accessible, thereby reducing the risk of avoidable diseases.
- School-based Telehealth: With telemedical services, emergency medical attention can be provided for students before determining if they will need to be admitted to a hospital.
FAQs About Telemedicine
- How Common is Telemedicine? Telemedicine in the healthcare industry is quickly becoming popular, with over half of all US hospitals supporting some telemedicine patient care.5
- Is Telemedicine Safe? While not all situations are viable to be attended to via a telemedicine appointment, telemedicine services are as safe as in-person appointments in cases where they can be applied.
- What are Telemedicine Requirements? For the services of telemedicine patient care to be approved, it must be via a HIPAA-compliant medium. A high-speed internet connection and a quiet location are needed for a telemedicine appointment.