Advancements in technology are dramatically changing the world of medicine as we know it, and medical professionals worldwide are utilizing this rapidly evolving landscape to achieve and innovate the way we stay healthy. One vein of medicine that is really maximizing the potential of these advancements, while changing the face of healthcare, is telemedicine.
The definition of telemedicine has many variations but the broadly accepted version comes from the World Health Organization who defines it as “the delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”
More simply put, telemedicine is a term that was coined in the 1970s as “healing at a distance.” So how is telemedicine changing the face of healthcare?
In the biggest sense, 2018 saw telemedicine legislation continuing to gain traction toward allowing more payers greater health benefit options while Congress passed the CHRONIC Care Act that effectively increased telemedicine access to individual homes. Telemedicine isn’t only making moves politically; the industry is also drawing attention from technology giants like Samsung and Apple. It makes perfect sense when companies like Chiron Healthcontinue to successfully invest in new and advanced ways to bring patients and health providers together.
Much closer to home, telemedicine is reshaping how technology is being used to deliver distance care for a wide variety of conditions. Healthcare providers and patients are connecting to address mental health, post-surgical care, in-home dialysis, cancer treatment, and more, all through secure video and telecommunication. In addition telemedicine is solving (or working to solve) three current healthcare system problems: limited providers, cost prohibitive care, and access to that care.
Telemedicine is a great solution for individual practitioners who are looking to be more available to patients as newer health systems are offering wider reaching networks. This expansion of providers marries supply with patient demand and effectively allows patients easier access to clinical care and even emergency and intensive services.
Telemedicine is also a great reducer of cost. Hospital costs are expensive so hospital visits are too. By eliminating the need to go to the hospital for care that can be handled remotely, costs scale down across the board.
When it comes to access, telemedicine is providing more but this service does have its limits. True, telemedicine is serving rural America in a very important way by allowing rural interactions and treatment to take place. For instance, rural clinicians have access to continuing education they might otherwise be disconnected from. While seeing patients in rural areas these clinicians can also reach out to their peer community to provide a greater knowledge base. For residents in rural communities, telemedicine means even more.
Telemedicine supports rural patients as well as their families. Instead of traveling great distances to see a doctor or visit a hospital, patients can stay where they are most comfortable. Studies have proven that patients tend to exist in a healthier state when they are in their normal environment as apposed to a hospital in a strange town where family and friends might be many miles away. Because of the convenience the access to telemedicine provides, patients, and their families, tend to participate more actively in their healthcare which in turn gives them greater overall health and longevity.
Those are the basic upsides of the growing world of telemedicine but there is one important point to make regarding a key deficit this industry that needs to be addressed – access doesn’t always equal available.
As telemedicine progresses serious consideration needs to be paid to the expansion of technology. For example, how do you “heal at a distance” when the rural communities have no broadband to support the call? Take rural Montana, for example. Communities are often long distances from medical specialists and advanced technology.
Peter Rosenberger, family caregiver advocate, acknowledges the need for broadband in telemedicine saying, “Caregivers often function as high-functioning multi-taskers. The demands on family caregivers can be better managed with help. Alexa, Siri, Google and a host of other virtual help is a click away, but they need an interstate of broadband to travel upon, not the dirt roads that serve all too many.”
While telemedicine still has room to grow and evolve it’s clear that its progression is showing no signs of slowing. So the next time you need to go to the doctor check to see if the doctor can heal you from the comfort of your own home.