Telemedicine: Its History, Uses and Benefits

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Telemedicine: Its History, Uses and Benefits

Telemedicine, Legal services, etc.

Digital and electronic technologies have brought a major paradigm shift in the way the medical industry works. Among the many developments brought about by these technologies, telemedicine has perhaps made one of the most path-breaking impacts.


So what exactly is telemedicine?


By definition, telemedicine is the practice of using electronic media to transfer medical information from one point to another in order enable better patient care.


There are numerous ways in which telemedicine is implemented in the present world. For example, information is transmitted through two-way video, smart phones, email, fax and wireless tools. There are several other ways as well. In the recent times, live chat on the Internet has become a popular way of implementing telemedicine.


The beginning and growth


The seeds of telemedicine were sown almost four decades ago with an intention to spread quality healthcare to remote areas that do not have access to advanced treatments. Now, telemedicine has become an integral part of the ongoing operations in health centers, hospitals, physician’s office and other health care centers.


Telemedicine has taken medical care beyond the boundaries of healthcare facilities and right into the homes of people. People are able to communicate with doctors and obtain medical advice right from the comfort of their homes.


Telemedicine is not exclusive of conventional medical care practices


The methods of treatment or medical practices adopted in telemedicine are not different from conventional medical care. They are part of the investment made by healthcare facilities in information and communication technology. Telemedicine has created another way of delivering medical care. In other words, telemedicine is an additional facility offered by certain healthcare centers.


The costs incurred by availing telemedicine are also not much different from the expenses of traditional practices. The reimbursement fee structure is also the same. The only main difference is with regard to delivering medical care. While conventional medicine offers treatment on the site, telemedicine is provided remotely.


Telehealth and telemedicine are interchangeable terms. Both include consultations through video conferencing, online patient portals, transmitting pictures, monitoring vital signs remotely, using wireless applications for providing healthcare, nursing call centers and continuing medical education online.


However, there is one major difference between telemedicine and telehealth. Usually, telehealth refers to remote healthcare which might not always include clinical care. Telemedicine is deeply integrated with clinical care.


Telemedicine is also associated with HIT (Health Information Technology). The difference is that HIT refers to storage, transmission and usage of digital records pertaining to medical information. It does not involve actual delivery of clinical services. Telemedicine, on the other hand, focuses mainly on delivery of medical clinical care.

The scope of telemedicine


Telemedicine has enormous scope. The actual meaning of telemedicine can be understood by comprehending the services provided under this field of healthcare. Some of the services included in telemedicine are:

  • Remote consultation with experts and specialists: Telemedicine makes it possible for healthcare experts to offer consultation services to patients in remote locations. The primary care physician can refer the patient to an expert who can assist the physician in diagnosing the problem. Multiple channels such as live video conferencing and sharing diagnostic images or other patient data through electronic media are used to offer remote consultancy using telemedicine.

  • Remote monitoring: Telemedicine enables remotely monitoring the patient using electronic gadgets to collect patient health information and transmit the same to a health center or RDTF (Remote Diagnostic Testing Facility). Once experts receive these data, they interpret them and prescribe further medical care. Remote monitoring includes continuously monitoring vital signs, blood sugar, heart function and other indicators. These facilities are extremely beneficial for homebound patients since they are not forced to make frequent trips to hospitals.

  • Consumer health information: With telemedicine, patients as well as doctors can use the Internet and different wireless gadgets to obtain healthcare information by interacting with relevant people and obtaining peer-to-peer support.

  • Continuing medical education: Telemedicine includes use of digital media to continue medical education. Health professionals can take short term courses, attend webinars and seminars and equip themselves with stronger healthcare skills without physically being present at educational centers.

Different mechanisms used to deliver healthcare in telemedicine

  • Networked programs: These programs create a common communication platform for tertiary care hospitals and the clinics situated in remote rural and suburban regions. Communication links are established using the Internet or high speed lines. According to ATA estimates, the United States has around 200 network programs connecting more than 3000 sites all over the country. Telemedicine is executed over these communicated platforms.

  • Point to point connectivity: Hospitals and clinics use private high speed communication lines for service delivery to remote locations. Healthcare centers can use these channels to outsource services to specialty care providers. Some of the healthcare services included under this delivery mechanism are radiology, mental healthcare, stroke assessment and services related to intensive care.

  • Monitoring center links: These delivery mechanisms are used for monitoring fetal health, pulmonary health, cardiac health and other services related to care for homebound patients. The most common channels used for communication are the conventional landline, wireless connections and the Internet.

  • E-health service: E-health services are web based. They put specialists directly in touch with consumers via the Internet. Sites that offer direct healthcare for patients are included under telemedicine.

Telemedicine and its benefits


The numerous benefits offered by telemedicine can be classified under four main categories:

  • Better access: Telemedicine has been a boon on remotely located rural areas that suffer from lack of access to high quality healthcare. This technology has made good healthcare accessible to a wider spectrum of people. Additionally, it has been an excellent way for physicians and specialists to expand the reach of their services and offer the benefit of their expertise to more number of people. Considering the massive shortage of qualified and experienced healthcare professionals all over the world, telemedicine has proved extremely beneficial in bridging the gap between demand and supply in healthcare.

  • Affordability: Telehealth and Telemedicine have not only made high quality medical care easy accessible, but also affordable. They have reduced the cost of healthcare while increasing efficiency by enabling physicians and patients to manage chronic diseases more effectively. Additionally, healthcare becomes affordable because services are delivered over virtual media, which in turn reduces travel time, hospital stays and sharing professional healthcare staff.

  • Better quality of care: Telemedicine has succeeded in delivering better quality service especially in life threatening cases involving ICU care, mental health and other specialties. Surveys have shown superior satisfaction levels among patients. The outcome of telemedicine care has been very appreciable.

Patient preference: Owing to the convenience, affordability and effectiveness of telemedicine, patients have begun to prefer this mode of healthcare. Besides just the patient, telemedicine has deeply improved convenience for their families and community at large. Since telemedicine can be accessed from home, patients escape the stress of traveling to healthcare facilities. Subsequently, costs incurred on travel are curbed. More importantly, telemedicine has provided peace of mind to millions of homebound patients. Owing to the numerous benefits, the demand for telemedicine has grown in recent years.


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