Since its inception more than 40 years ago, with hospitals extending their services to patients in remote locations, telemedicine has expanded exponentially and has become a coherent part of specialty departments, private doctor’s offices, hospitals, home health care, and the consumer’s workplace. Telemedicine is not a specialty. The products and services of telemedicine are part of the larger part of healthcare. Either through their information technology or the way that they deliver healthcare.
What Services Are Provided Through Telemedicine
Sometimes the primary care and referral services for specialist care will need a consultation to determine a diagnosis. This can be via live interactive video, or with technology that will save and forward diagnostic images, as well as the patient’s data to be reviewed later.
● Patient monitoring
Telemedicine is crucial for people in remote locations, especially the elderly, who are often unable to commute to and from doctors’ surgeries for regular consultations. Devices are used to collect and send patient data to testing facilities and health agencies. This data could include vital signs in the form of blood glucose testing results, blood pressure readings, ECG information, and a host of other information. These services provided by telemedicine assist in supplementing the services provided by visiting health practitioners.
● Health and medical Information
Access to specialized health information and discussion groups via wireless devices and the internet allows consumers to access information and share and discuss with peers.
● Medical education credits
Credits can be obtained by health professionals, and specialized medical education can be continued and accessed for professionals living and working in remote locations.
● Preventative care support
Telemedicine is a valuable tool in connecting service providers with patients to make sure that they get the support they need when dealing with weight loss and smoking, which are the keys to reducing heart disease and many other conditions.
● School-based telemedicine
When children become ill at school, they might visit a school nurse or be picked up by their parents and taken to an urgent care center. Some innovative districts have teamed up with doctors to conduct remote visits from the school. The provider can assess the urgency of the case and provide instructions or reassurance to parents.
● Assisted living center support
Problems can often occur at night or on weekends. Telemedicine software has proven to be useful in dealing with assisted living facilities where hospitalization would be the only option. Remote doctors on-call can conduct a remote visit to determine if hospitalization is necessary.
Specialties in which Telemedicine can be Employed
Telemedicine is used in the following specialties:
- Telenursing Involves the use of information and communication technology to provide medical care and services to patients when physical distance is a challenge
- Telepathology is an area where the high-quality microscopic images are transferred through the internet and can be used for teaching, research, and diagnosis. Therefore, it is necessary for a qualified pathologist to choose the appropriate representative high-quality image to be sent for analysis.
- Teleradiology is the area where telemedicine is utilized in a big way. They transmit radiological images via the internet to a radiologist or physician, who needs to have a computer with a high-quality screen display, and, if possible, a printer that prints high-quality images.
- Telepharmacy is the area where pharmaceutical care is made accessible to patients at locations where they may not have access to a pharmacist. The pharmacist can monitor treatment, counsel patients about the intake of medications, and authorize prescription drug refills using teleconferencing or videoconferencing.
- Remote dispensing of drugs using automated packaging and labeling systems is also an example of telepharmacy. They can provide these services at retail pharmacies or at clinics, hospitals,nursing homes, and other health care outlets.
- Teleophthalmology is the use of digitized medical equipment and communication technology, optimal eye care facilities, and monitoring of chronic eye conditions. This assists with the provision of eye care and access to eye specialists for uninsured patients.
- Telecardiology has been used since as far back as 1906. Einthoven, the inventor of the ECG, transmitted eletrocardiographic data from the hospital to his lab using telephone wires. Telecardiology makes specialist care accessible and is used to transmit patients’ ECG’s and other test results to experts to view. Telecardiology can also be used to monitor patients with pacemakers that live in remote areas
- Teledentistry involves the use of electronic media for the purposes of dental care and consultation and the creation of public awareness regarding dental health.
- Telepsychiatry makes use of videoconferencing and various other technologies to make specialist psychiatry available to people not able to have regular face-to-face appointments. Monitoring of drug intake, follow ups and diagnosis is possible through telepsychiatry.
- Teledermatology this involves the use of audiovisual data transmission of skin conditions for specialist consultation, diagnosis and treatment.
- Telerehabilitation refers to the use of communication technology to provide rehabilitation services to patients that include speech therapy, occupational therapy, neuropsychology, physical therapy and audiology. Telerehabilitation enables patients unable to travel to the clinic or hospital due to their disability, will still receive rehabilitation, and expert consultation.
- Teletrauma care uses modern communication tools to provide expert health care to patients in a trauma or disaster situation. Doctors and health personnel at the scene can interact with specialists via the internet to assist in assessing the severity of the trauma and to determine management going forward.
According to the ATA, there are currently over 200 communication networks in the United States, providing telemedicine services to over 3000 sites. These communication networks are used to link hospitals and clinics with community health services in remote locations. There are two options: dedicated high-speed telecommunication lines or the internet. This enables communication between the different sites.
Private, high-speed networks allow point-to-point connections between hospitals and clinics to deliver services or to outsource to other independent medical providers, which may include mental health, stroke, radiology, and intensive care.
Patients who need in-home care, which includes cardiac monitoring or pulmonary care, use links to monitoring centers. A typical landline or wireless connection can link the patient and the care center. Some systems need the internet to communicate patient monitoring information.
There are also E-health patient services available on the internet and can provide consumer outreach services. These websites are used for direct patient care.
What Are The Benefits Of Telemedicine?
The increasing popularity of telemedicine can to attributed to four major benefits:
Improved access to care
Telemedicine has made healthcare accessible to patients in remote locations.
Telemedicine also allows doctors and healthcare facilities to connect with other offices, besides the ones in their immediate network. Telemedicine has been able to increase service to millions of patients even though there are major provider shortages in rural and urbanized areas.
Improved cost effectiveness
Reducing the cost of healthcare is one of the most important reasons for including telemedicine. The use of telemedicine reduces healthcare costs because of efficiency, reductions in travel, management of chronic diseases, shorter hospital stays, and sharing professional healthcare staff.
Improve quality of healthcare
Studies have shown an improvement in healthcare quality with the use of telemedicine. The services rival the quality of in-person consultations. The are some instances, such as mental health, where telemedicine is a better option than traditional services.
Increased patient demand
Telemedicine is extremely popular with consumers. Telemedicine has had a profound impact on the patient, their family, and extended community. There is less stress and travel time with the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine provides patients access to providers that would be otherwise inaccessible.
Telemedicine is not a new concept but has grown rapidly in popularity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adoption of this system has been slow, with providers having reimbursement issues, however Medicare’s newly adopted rules and insurers’ recent acceptance of telemedicine has made it more user friendly. As a result, many healthcare providers have turned to telemedicine to provide distance care during this time.
Starting a telemedicine practice requires selecting tools carefully to include video conferencing, CRM, cloud storage, web hosting, and data-collection. Staff will need to be trained and patients educated on how to use these tools, and on best practices for protecting patient information.
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