Telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.
Telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty.
The practice of medicine through telecommunications, or telemedicine, began in the early 1960s when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) first put men in space. Physiological measurements of the astronauts were telemetered from both the spacecraft and the space suits during NASA space flights. These early efforts were enhanced by the development of satellite technology that fostered the development of telemedicine.
Now, telemedicine is expanding and may soon redefine modern health care. With the aid of wearable health monitors, computers, and video, doctors will be able to evaluate, diagnose, and treat you—all without your physical presence in their office.
How is telemedicine used today?
Telemedicine provides opportunities to keep people healthy and outside of hospitals. For example, in certain regions and medical practices in the US:
- You can send a digital image of a suspicious rash, along with your medical history, to a dermatologist, who will review it, diagnose, and prescribe medication to treat it.
- You can check-in with your doctor after surgery for follow-up care in your own home.
- If you have diabetes, you can monitor your blood sugar levels at home and upload the readings to your doctor's computer, saving yourself a time-consuming visit. Irregular blood sugar levels would generate an alert to the doctor's staff to call you in for immediate intervention to prevent complications.
- If you have hypertension, you can wear a monitor that tracks your blood pressure daily and transmits your results to your medical record, allowing your doctor to track your progress.
Convenience. Need a quick consultation with your doctor? Telemedicine can save you travel time and the hassle of sitting in a waiting room with other sick people.
Increased rural access. There’s a shortage of doctors in many rural areas of the US. Telemedicine has a unique capacity to increase medical service to rural patients.
Cost and efficiency. Doctors often charge less for a telemedicine consultation than they do for an in-person visit. A telemedicine consult might cost $40 to $70, compared for $130 to $180 for an office visit. In addition, telemedicine allows doctors to efficiently and closely monitor patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Second opinions. Telemedicine allows a far-away specialist to evaluate your MRI, X-ray, or other scans and tests. This will help patients who want a second opinion, as well as doctors who want to consult with experts on complicated cases.
These technologies offer convenience and huge potential cost savings, but they are not without controversy. Some doctors are concerned about the safety of prescribing drugs without examining the patient in person.Can they really assess what the patient needs over a video link? They also worry that telemedicine could depersonalize your healthcare. In addition, some medical problems will always demand a personal exam.
Sources: Berkley Wellness