Telemedicine of Today
If telemedicine is a new term for you, it’s time to be introduced.
Telemedicine is an exciting new advancement of medical treatment, which connects patients with qualified healthcare professionals through remote communication. It becomes particularly useful in cases such as monitoring a patient with a chronic condition, creating access to specialists regardless of geographic location, or to get care to those who are unable to leave their home due to physical or mental health conditions. Imagine how helpful being able to communicate with a doctor through a live video feed might be to someone who suffers from chronic pain or PTSD. They can reach the care they need without preparing for what might be a difficult trip in leaving their home.
Telemedicine is only one aspect of a larger field. Telehealth is the all-encompassing term for everything related to the junction between communication and health care. All telemedicine is telehealth but telehealth includes more than just telemedicine.
Telemedicine is focused on the direct link between patients and doctors. It uses communication technology to allow doctors to remotely diagnose, treat, and provide ongoing monitoring for patients. While telehealth includes this one-on-one type of interaction, it is also used for broader health communications. Something that is part of telehealth only is the education of both medical employees and the public. This aspect involves informing the public about a local health concern or continuing to provide education for current healthcare providers.
How Does It Work?
Telemedicine uses the Internet, computers, and mobile devices to give patients access to medical care. This broad definition means the field of telemedicine is ever expanding as people find new uses for it or realize it is a solution to an existing problem. Innovation in telemedicine, in both the technology and medical aspects, has proven useful in alleviating concerns and struggles voiced by both patients and medical care providers.
While the exact procedure differs depending on what the healthcare concern is, the idea is to allow the patient to “visit” a doctor and benefit from their knowledge without having to actually visit their office. The basic concept creates a way for the patient to transfer medical information electronically to a doctor, who will review it and report back their findings.
Practicing telemedicine could be as simple as sending a few emails back and forth. During the email conversation, the patient mentions the wound from their recent surgery hurts a bit. The doctor asks for an image of the healing incision and the patient attaches it to their reply. Is the doctor concerned about the appearance? He might ask the patient to use an app to report their vital signs, looking for signs of infection.
It sounds simple but that is what telemedicine looks like in practice. Which is really the goal. The futuristic sounding terms are meant to achieve accessible and affordable health care.
But don’t start picturing severely ill patients asking an online forum if they should go to the hospital for their broken leg. The point of telemedicine is to get more patients the clinical care they need from accredited doctors. The most popular reasons and uses for telemedicine reflect this mission: relieving demands of time for doctors and patients and continued monitoring of an existing, but stable, condition. Telemedicine is about avoiding unnecessary office visits, not making office visits unnecessary.
How Does Telemedicine Benefit Me?
While telemedicine is indeed a great use of current technology, for anything to be considered successful, there has to be measurable benefits. To better understand these benefits, let’s start with the people telemedicine is designed to help. And that includes you.
Patients have three main areas of concern and they are convenience, cost, and capability. While these things may be prioritized differently for each individual, these are most often cited when asked about satisfaction with the healthcare industry.
Being able to access medical care in a convenient way is one of the hallmark principles of telemedicine. People in rural areas or who are physically unable to leave their homes are at a major disadvantage when scheduling office visits with a doctor. And even if you are not in those categories, most patients want a simpler way to see a doctor when they need to. Scheduling time away from work or school is difficult to coordinate with the often limited office hours of physicians. And let’s not even think about needing a doctor on a holiday or weekend.
The ever-increasing cost of medical care is always an issue. Telemedicine actually reduces the cost through their remote analysis and electronic data storage which require less physical resources to maintain. Telemedicine can possibly eliminate unnecessary visits to the ER as well as transportation expenses for patients who require it. The technology used, while being cutting-edge and impressive, also lowers other traditional costs associated with medical care. It is better able to manage chronic illnesses, and results in shorter hospital stays, as well as lower readmission rates.
The capability of the doctor will always be a major concern and telemedicine addresses this by giving patients better access to more specialists. Patients can be referred to specific doctors, regardless of their location. This technology enables specialists to perform detailed consultations from miles away. Having the ability to access the medical minds of all these physicians might be the most outstanding feature of telemedicine.
Although these are only three benefits associated with telemedicine, patients often mention others like not having to lose time from work to for a doctor’s visit, having their medical information easily accessible through a secure portal, and being able to engage with doctors in more relaxed setting than an office or hospital.
Above all, there is a very high level of patient satisfaction with telemedicine which demonstrates its success to address key concerns and needs of patients.
Telemedicine is Right Here, Right Now
In case you might think that telemedicine is still a thought of the future, you can literally reach out and touch it. Right now. In fact, you may already have used some of this technology though one of these services.
Teladoc is pretty much what the name implies: tell a doctor. But this on-demand service uses mobile devices, video, phone, and the Internet. Yet, there is no donning a gown and jumping up on the examining table. The patient sees a doctor through audio-video technology for diagnoses, consultations, or to receive ongoing monitoring of prescription medication. Teleadoc promises quality care when you need it. And the average wait time to speak to a licensed doctor by web, phone or mobile app is less than 10 minutes.
SnapMD uses cloud-based technology to streamline and integrate all aspects of medical care. This is a simple and cost-effective way to access servers, storage, databases, and other applications over the Internet. While patients can see licensed physicians through the use of mobile devices, SnapMD also encrypts their medical history and is compliant with HIPAA privacy regulations. Doctors can view their medical charts during the call which provides more information to make a thorough analysis. On the paperwork side, having the patient’s medical data in a convenient location assists in the process of filing insurance claims, determining co-pays, and verifying health plan coverage.
BreakThrough focuses on mental health and advertises confidential online therapy from your couch. This service has enhanced the therapeutic experience by providing a wide range of licensed therapists and psychiatrists. It also eliminates the possibility of running into someone in the waiting room, which is often a worrying concern that patients have. Patients benefit from easy access to mental health providers, and can fit in a therapy session at times that are most convenient, including nights and weekends. Research has proven that online counseling is just as effective as in-person therapy.
Smart Vision Labs covers another, sometimes overlooked, aspect of health care: vision exams. They offer a 5-minute vision exam that uses the same type of technology designed for LASIK procedures. Patients are asked a few questions about their overall health and then their eyes are scanned. These photos, as well as the data generated from them, are sent to a licensed doctor via cloud technology. If any prescription is needed, the patient can access it through a secure online portal. In fact, prescriptions will be kept on the server, along with medical data, so the patient can review this information. Once again, telemedicine offers convenience as well as quality care for the patient.
Telemedicine: Sci-Fi or WiFi?
The idea of seeing a doctor through an audio-visual link or conferring with a specialist in the comfort of your own home has a little science fiction feeling to it. But it’s all real thanks to the technology and the wonders of WiFi.
Health care has been a much discussed topic, from the White House to your own house. Although people and politicians may disagree on the best way to reform health care, everyone agrees on the idea of making it affordable and accessible. Telemedicine has done just that. It may not even be a stretch of the imagination to say that telemedicine has been at the forefront of affordable care years before it was a federal statute.
What does the future hold?
Telemedicine has not reached its full potential but has started a momentum in the healthcare industry that will be unstoppable. Despite the availability of interactive devices to connect patients and physicians, policies enacted in some states make it difficult for telemedicine to do what it was intended to do: provide everyone with convenient, cost-effective, and competent care. But the success of telemedicine and the satisfaction of both patients and physicians are causing lawmakers to rethink certain restrictions that unnecessarily regulate coverage.
Telemedicine is an exciting merging of technology and medicine that can and will change the format of health care. Everyone on the planet, regardless of geographic location, financial restraints, or physical or mental impairments, can receive medical care by qualified physicians. A wide range of conditions can be diagnosed and treated, from the flu to sprains and strains. Mental health providers can counsel patients in their own homes and vision exams are performed in five minutes with LASIK technology as a diagnostic tool.
Healthcare reform has started and we have only begun to appreciate its success and recognize its potential.
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by Joyce Handzo