During the COVID-19 epidemic, many medical establishments, namely hospitals, were overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID-19. People were left for dead because of the lack of capacity. Professionals were scrambling to find solutions to free more beds and reduce the number of patients recovering in the establishment, and so came telemedicine.
Tracing its origins back to the 50s, telemedicine has proven very beneficial to the medical industry in curbing the number of admitted patients and reducing staff’s workload. Despite its potential, telemedicine fizzled out during the early 20th century due to the high costs of running telephone services, but its popularity resumed in the 21st century when the internet became mainstream. Its reintroduction has caused many experts to realize its full potential and how it can be applied to boost efficiency, reduce expenses, and increase the quality of service.
What is Telemedicine?
According to Medley Med, telemedicine is a digital platform for medical businesses and patient care, telemedicine simply uses technology to improve healthcare quality and accessibility. Since it relies on digital technologies, patients from areas without a healthcare infrastructure can benefit from telemedicine. In addition, telemedicine establishments can host their services on two-way communication services, such as websites, applications, or telephone calls. Three main types of telemedicine are asynchronous, remote surveillance, and real-time interactive services.
Asynchronous telemedicine, more commonly referred to as “telemedicine with a store-and-forward capability,” involves the service receiving necessary information (e.g., symptoms, lab reports, or X-ray scans) which will be sent to medical professionals located elsewhere. Then, the professionals will send the report back to the service which will be forwarded to the patients. All of the transmission of private information will be done securely under HIPPA-complaint systems.
Remote surveillance is a service that allows patients to monitor their health by using technologies to monitor and record their vital signs. This type of service is essential to those with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases, and to those who are at risk of getting one; they are essential to maintaining their health and well-being.
Lastly, interactive services allow patients to connect to doctors and consultants in a private video call for diagnosis. This allows patients to directly express their concerns regarding their conditions, and the doctors would be able to monitor and diagnose them from afar. Furthermore, the service is mainly done through HIPPA-complaint services to ensure patients’ confidentiality.
According to the Institute of Health, Washington D.C., there are supporting services to telemedicine as well, such as teleradiology, telepathology, and telepharmacy.
The multitude of advantages offered by telemedicine have shaped the medical industry today. According to Brian William Hasslefeld, a practitioner at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the ever-growing technology allowed further improvement in the quality of service. The following contains the benefits of telemedicine:
- Convenience and Comfort: Patients are not required to travel to the doctor’s office, which can take up to hours or days of their time; mostly, the time is spent commuting and waiting. Instead, telemedicine allows patients to receive consultations and diagnoses from the comfort of their homes. Telemedicine allows patients to easily schedule their consultation as it requires less time. Furthermore, patients with immobility can comfortably interact with practitioners.
- Infection Control: Telemedicine reduced the risk of infection by making physical contact and traveling unnecessary. Patients with contagious diseases can safely receive advice from doctors in a safe environment without infecting others.
- Better Evaluation: Despite not going to the doctor’s office, practitioners can diagnose patients effectively as they can directly observe patients in their element. For example, doctors can understand the living conditions and behavior of their patients, which can aid them in diagnosing.
- Familial Contact: Family members can join in sessions with patients to help provide necessary information, take notes, or ask questions to doctors. In addition, telemedicine allows family members to substitute patients if they are unavailable.
- Chronic Condition Management: Patients can monitor their conditions, especially ones that can affect their livelihood and well-being, such as cardiovascular diseases. Remote surveillance is suitable for this role. Patients can also receive more consultations as telemedicine reduces the time wasted to attend a meeting.
- Reduced Costs: The cost for each telemedicine appointment is significantly lower as it lowers or cuts out commuting costs, reservation costs, and lost time from work. Additionally, the medical establishment benefits from reduced patient-care costs.
- Accessibility: Telemedicine allows patients to connect to appointments via phone calls or the Internet; therefore, patients who have limited access to medical establishments will be able to easily consult with professionals.
- Emergency and Disaster Response: The accessibility of telemedicine allows patients to make emergency consultations should an emergency arise. Whereas traditional healthcare requires facilities to function, telemedicine can provide care during dire conditions.
Impact on the Medical Industry
Ever since the 2000s, the medical industry realized the potential of telemedicine. Medical establishments can provide better care to patients, reduce operational costs, and provide more access to patients away from facilities. Furthermore, telemedicine allows for more room for better chronic disease management and mental health services due to its versatility. As a result, telemedicine has bloomed ever since the 21st century as the Internet became widespread.
During the COVID-19 outbreak in the 2020s, telemedicine has proved to be a viable alternative to physical consultations. Furthermore, it is considered risky to venture and social distancing rules are in place. Seeing a business opportunity, medical businesses, specifically telemedicine, and telepharmacy, expanded to customers affected by the virus. Pharmacies can receive orders from customers via the Internet, and telemedicine employees receive both orders and appointment scheduling. In return, the industry bloomed.
The Future of Telemedicine
The future of telemedicine will revolve around innovation, growth, and integration with traditional healthcare. As technology progresses throughout the 21st century, telemedicine is bound to improve its quality, accessibility, and most importantly, its options.
The integration of telemedicine and traditional care is no surprise. With paper-based documentation becoming obsolete, many medical establishments have turned to electronic health records to increase accessibility and portability. Additionally, paper-based records can be damaged and costly to produce, and they can be misinterpreted by practitioners due to their handwriting, resulting in medical errors. Therefore, there can be an integration between technology and conventional healthcare.
Biomedical engineering companies will jump on the trend and incorporate telemedicine with advanced technology, such as virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), biosensors that monitor patients’ health, or applications. According to Pillips, they are already in action in screening, monitoring, and transferring data. Furthermore, new specialties of telemedicine will originate from these innovations, namely mental healthcare, dermatology, and dentistry.
The rise in telemedicine also came with a new wave of regulations and standards set by governments. Many medical establishments must follow the guidelines provided, further improving the quality of service. The new set of regulations will also improve the electronic medical records’ privacy and transparency.
By David Jay