Telemedicine allows health care professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients at a distance using telecommunications technology. The approach has been through a striking evolution in the last decade and it is becoming an increasingly important part of the healthcare infrastructure.
In the 1950’s a few university medical centers & healthcare organizations or hospitals started to try to find ways to share information and images via telephone. In one of the first successes, two health centers in Pennsylvania were able to transmit radiologic images over the phone.
Use of Telemedicine
Initially, telemedicine was used mostly to connect doctors working with a patient in one location to specialists elsewhere. It was especially beneficial to rural or hard to reach populations where specialists aren’t readily available. Throughout the next several decades, the equipment necessary to conduct remote visits remained expensive and complex, so the use of the approach, while growing, was limited.
The rise of the internet age brought with it profound changes for the practice of telemedicine. The proliferation of smart devices, capable of high-quality video transmission, opened up the possibility of delivering remote healthcare to patients in their homes, workplaces or assisted living facilities as an alternative to in-person visits for both primary and specialty care.
Telemedicine involves the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. Telemedicine technology is frequently used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a host of other clinical services that can be provided remotely via secure video and audio connections.
Using telemedicine as an alternative to in-person visits has a host of benefits for patients and providers alike.
- Increased revenue
- Improved office efficiency
- An answer to the competitive threat of retail health clinics and on-line only providers
- Better patient follow through and improved health outcomes
- Fewer missed appointments and cancellations
- Private payer reimbursement
- Less time away from work
- No travel expenses or time
- Less interference with child or elder care responsibilities
- No exposure to other potentially contagious patients
According to the World Health Organization, telehealth includes, “Surveillance, health promotion and public health functions.” Though there is a lot of interest in telemedicine these days, and experience is required to assess and manage patients with conditions that might not easily lend themselves to remote management.
Telehealth includes a broad range of technologies and services to provide patient care and improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole. It is undoubtedly different from telemedicine as it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.
Is telemedicine safe?
The best solutions are easy for medical offices to set up and deploy and as easy for patients as the mobile device applications they use every day.
Yes. When used under the right conditions and for appropriate cases, telemedicine has been shown to be as safe and effective as in-person care. Of course, not every condition is conducive to treatment via video visits, so providers must use good judgement when leveraging this channel for healthcare delivery. In order to be effective, telemedicine technologies must be easy to use for both patients and providers.