Telemedicine is a medical practice healthcare professionals use to diagnose and treat patients remotely. Specifically, they use telecommunications technologies to attend to patients at a distance. Doctors and other healthcare personnel use telemedicine to offer various services, including primary care consultation, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and emergency services.
Additionally, doctors use this practice to assess patients whether or not they need in-person treatment. Other times, they employ it to address minor infections and injuries and offer certain therapy types such as speech therapy. They also write and renew prescriptions remotely. A doctor recommends telemedicine when a patient can’t physically access a health center or must practice physical distancing.
Today, telemedicine involves using high-quality video tools. Telemedicine surfaced in the 1950s after university health centers and a handful of hospital systems introduced an image and information sharing platform using the telephone. During this time, a doctor attending to a patient would connect remotely with a distant specialist to access specialized care. This method helped populations residing in rural areas and other hard-to-reach places.
Over time, advancements in technology introduced better systems of connecting healthcare professionals with patients. Specifically, the internet’s proliferation and advances in technologies, including smartphones and other devices, have transformed telemedicine.
In the United States, telemedicine is fast growing into a healthcare delivery tool. More than half of all hospitals in the country use some telemedicine form. As of 2022, patients can access about 3,500 service locations distributed over 200 telemedicine networks. The practice is so beneficial that, in 2011, it helped reach over 300,000 veterans.
Telemedicine differs from telehealth. While telemedicine uses telecommunication technology to deliver care over a distance, telehealth is a broad term that entails telecommunications and electronic technologies that healthcare providers use to provide care remotely. Telemedicine specifically refers to offering clinical services at a distance. In contrast, telehealth can include non-clinical services. These include administrative meetings, training, and medical education.
A paramount concern for patients is how safe the practice is. This mainly involves the use of video tools. Experts say it is just as safe as in-person care for appropriate cases and under the right conditions. Not all cases call for video consultation. Therefore, the healthcare professional must rule out all other possibilities and consider it the only viable option.
Again, patients worry about their privacy and security, considering telemedicine transmits their data. Telemedicine must conform to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations to address this. Consumer video platforms, including Facetime and Skype, don’t count since they don’t meet such rules. Instead, providers use technologies that decrypt and protect patient data.
Telemedicine benefits both the patient and the doctor. For patients, it lowers costs that would otherwise go to commuting and childcare when one visits a health center physically. It also enhances care provision to particular categories of people, including people with disabilities, the elderly, those geographically isolated, and those who’re incarcerated.
Additionally, telemedicine helps extend preventive care, especially to those with geographic and financial barriers limiting them from accessing physical health centers. Besides, this practice slows the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
For healthcare providers, there are few overhead costs. Thus, they pay less for front desk support or rent a few examination rooms. Also, for established health centers, telemedicine offers an additional income stream. Besides, it helps protect them from infectious diseases.