Telemedicine and How it Works

The creation of the Telemedicine field is a testament to how technology has revolutionized all aspects of life in the 21st century. Telemedicine is a term coined in the 1970s, which literally means “healing at a distance.” The term was chosen to convey the idea of using technology to deliver healthcare services especially when the distance was a factor.

Here’s what we will cover in this article:

    1. How Does Telemedicine Work?
    2. What Are The Benefits of Telemedicine?
    3. What Is The Future of Telemedicine?
    4. Uptake of Telemedicine Across The Globe
    5. Challenges Faced in Telemedicine

Telemedicine serves as the synonym for Telehealth sometimes. Telehealth is known as the distribution of health-related services as well as information through telecommunication technology. However, Telemedicine can have a more specific connotation.  Such as when it is used in reference to remote clinical services, such as diagnosis and monitoring in rural settings where there may be a shortage of personnel, lack of transport, or lack of mobility.

Also, certain people associate telemedicine with service delivery by solely physicians whereas telehealth refers to services generally provided by any health professionals such as nurses and pharmacists. Telehealth can be used interchangeably with telemedicine.

Telemedicine helps in bridging the gap by providing health resources to isolated communities. Therefore, It allows long-distance patient and clinician contact as well as care and advice. Healthcare professionals are able to still educate their patients, monitor their symptoms, and even make remote admissions.

Telemedicine was meant for the exchange of valid information for the diagnosis, increasing access to treatment, and prevention of disease and injuries. However, there have been a few challenges in fully adopting the technology. To gain insight, there has to be an understanding of how telemedicine works, its benefits, and how it can be improved.

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Telemedicine is an open and constantly evolving science. It has had various evolutions since it was initially introduced. One highlight of this constant change is the mere fact that it incorporates the latest advancements in technology to respond to the changing health needs and adapt to society’s demands.

Another reason to highlight that is leading to the change in telemedicine is improved internet infrastructure. Due to being technology and internet reliant, telemedicine requires a durable broadband connection. Over the years, this has made telemedicine more widely feasible.

Healthcare providers initially assess whether the benefits of telemedicine would outway the costs. Once it has been established that telemedicine can be beneficial,  collaborators and healthcare providers orchestrate the delivery of telehealth in one of these ways, synchronous, asynchronous, remote patient monitoring, and mobile health.

Synchronous telemedicine has two parts. It involves real-time interactive as well as videotelephony. This is what most people imagine when they think of telemedicine. Real-time interactions between patient and provider are typically used for electronic consultations which are billed just like a regular consultation.

Some insurance companies cover the costs of electronic consultations This type of telemedicine has already been used in a wide range of clinical disciplines and is readily available as an option in most developed countries.

Videotelephony involves the use of technology for the reception and transmission of audio-video signals for communication between people synchronously. This is particularly useful for patients in distant locations as well as those with mobility issues. Deaf and speech-impaired patients can also benefit from sign language videoconferencing.

These benefits are not only limited to patients, but doctors can also have video conferences where they discuss the diagnosis, counseling, monitoring, and treatments of patients.

Asynchronous or store-and-forward telemedicine involves transmitting gathered patient reports and well-structured medical data to a doctor or medical specialist then the data can be analyzed at a convenient time. This offline assessment does not require both parties to be present at the same time.

Though there is no physical examination performed the patient history and data will provide enough information so that a diagnosis can be made or further testing can be requested. Specialties such as radiology, pathology, and dermatology are fields where this type of telemedicine is becoming more commonplace.

Remote monitoring is actually what it sounds like. This self-monitoring allows medical professionals to observe a patient remotely. This is enabled by various technological devices and it is typically useful for managing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes mellitus. Since the doctor obtains data such as the blood sugar level of a diabetes patient readily, he can determine the health levels of the patient before the next consultation or offer new instructions if necessary. This leads to greater satisfaction with patients and reduced costs.

Most of these methods are usually combined and rendered as one service. Typically, your healthcare provider will already have your health data or it can be shared with them with the store-and-forward type of telemedicine. Also, remote monitoring data such as blood pressure results can be sent already to the doctor via email.

Then when a scheduled synchronous telemedicine video call is made, the doctor already has a wealth of information to analyze the patient’s condition and can freely discuss his insights with you in privacy and confidentiality. Meanwhile, the patient gets to stay in their home community, have reduced absence from work or school as well as reduced stress from the cost as well as time spent commuting.

What Are The Benefits of Telemedicine?

Regardless of the type of telemedicine delivery methods used, they all have four key elements which include providing clinical support, overcoming distance, using advanced technology, and improving health outcomes.

The overarching benefits of telemedicine can not be overlooked or over-exaggerated. It has been proven to offer flexible options for monitoring patients as well as enhancing patient care. It is also flexible in the sense that other technologies such as data analysis and AI can be integrated. Mobile health apps can provide services such as instant messaging healthcare bots or clinicians as well as supporting video conferences.

Clinicians also benefit from telemedicine can be used to improve patient engagement, as it provides them with an alternative when they might miss a consultation. They allow clinicians an easy way to check up on patients. Also, the advent of a contagious disease, enables doctors to treat patients without being exposed to themselves.

What Is The Future of Telemedicine?

Telemedicine has a bright future if certain improvements are made. The potential has yet to be explored fully. Key areas where improvements are needed are direct-to-consumer services, self-service, and provider collaboration.

A review of studies in 2016, revealed that telephone-based support and remote monitoring of vital signs of people with heart failure reduced the risk of death as well as hospitalization for heart failure. Telemedicine can make health systems work smoother for all involved parties, however, it could also fragment health care. Also, reimbursement of telemedicine solely depends on insurance providers and the law of that country or state.

Improved access to telemedicine seems to be of more benefit to patients in rural areas, distance communities, or patients with impairments that make it difficult for them to visit the hospital, overall, it will benefit everyone. The best form of healthcare is patient-centered and telemedicine enables this.

Uptake of Telemedicine Across The Globe

Telemedicine in East, Southeast, and South Asia

Asian countries have increasingly adopted telemedicine. Below are countries that have embraced telemedicine.

Singapore. Singapore is the leading Asian country in the uptake of telemedicine. The government of Singapore has partnered with telehealth service providers and has given regulatory guidelines regarding telemedicine.

In addition, the government has offered medical cover and allowed registered patients with chronic illnesses to access their physicians regularly through teleconferencing.

China and India have large populations with great internet coverage and have recently increased their electronic health service uptake.

In particular, India has trained its healthcare personnel in telemedicine to improve service delivery. Conversely, China is working towards contactless medical services by providing health services through digital devices.

Telemedicine in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is prone to numerous diseases with a lack of enough medical equipment and lack of enough medical personnel.

Telemedicine uptake increases as the region gradually adapts to electronic devices such as smartphones. However, it still needs to invest in infrastructure that can support the use of telemedicine.

Telemedicine in Europe and North America

These are countries where access to advanced communication technology is often readily available. In the United States of America, Europe, the United Kingdom, and France, their governments have encouraged insurance companies to support telemedicine service providers.

Challenges Faced in Telemedicine

Patient’s Lack of Technical Skills

Patients need training on how to go about telemedicine using suitable devices. Older patients may especially struggle to access these services. That is because they may have a more challenging time learning how to use devices used in telemedicine.

Expensive Technology

Telemedicine requires visual assessments, which require the use of audio-visual communication devices. If a patient cannot afford a device and high-speed internet connectivity, they may find it hard to access telemedicine services.

In addition, patients may also face slow connectivity connection or network outages.

Security Risk

Patients give personal information through telemedicine. However, the information provided is prone to cyber-attacks. Thus, privacy concerns have been raised in telemedicine. Therefore, all information gathered through telemedicine must be encrypted to prevent incidents such as hacking.

Reimbursement

Sometimes insurance companies do not pay reimbursement for telemedicine services. Therefore, health care providers need to keep records and track all the costs of their telemedicine services. This information is crucial when seeking reimbursement.

Lack of Sufficient Data for Continuity

If a medical practitioner receives a patient and cannot access their previous medical history, it will be challenging to treat such a patient. Therefore, there should be an integrated system where all telemedicine service providers can access medical history electronically for continuity of care.

Service Awareness

It is prudent to create awareness of telemedicine services so that patients are well informed. They will be able to access and use telemedicine services with ease. Platforms in which telemedicine can be advertised include; email newsletters and social media platforms such as Facebook.

Conclusion – How Telemedicine Works

Many countries have adopted telemedicine in recent years. And their governments are encouraging health providers to partner with health insurance companies to promote telemedicine. As a result, healthcare providers may soon offer most outpatient services via telemedicine.

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