A futuristic thought experiment
Imagine consulting with a doctor for a medical problem: they ask you a series of health-related questions; you do a series of tests. They ask if you are suffering from any pain or discomfort and generally perform all the tasks that are expected during these kinds of consultations.
Now imagine that all this is all happening at 12:30 AM; and that you and the doctor are actually in your respective homes, miles apart from each other. Does it sound like science fiction? Not really: this scene is increasingly becoming more and more familiar in more and more places around the country, due to the advent of telemedicine or telehealth services.
Telemedicine is the use of information technology, telecommunication, and smart devices to be able to provide health services from a distance; without having to physically be in a clinic, community health center, or hospital. Telemedicine can make it possible for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to be able to “visit” patients confined to their homes; as well as patients who do not have sufficient funds for medicine and medical care.
A growing medical trend
The problem of a lack of adequate healthcare has always been a reality for many individuals living with chronic illness who are too ill to physically visit the doctor and may not be able to afford their very own primary care physician (PCP) who can make house calls. It is also a problem for individuals who have no disposable income and who may not have any insurance. For the most part, comprehensive and professional medical services and healthcare are always out of the reach of people who need it the most. Telemedicine addresses this problem by connecting patients to vital healthcare services, doctors, and nurses via remote monitoring, electronic consultation, and wireless communication (AHA, 2019).
According to data from the American Hospital Association (AHA); 76 percent of hospitals in the U.S. connect with their patients and with private practitioners using video conferencing and other technology. There has been a marked increase in the use and implementation of telehealth services in hospitals over the past few years, rising to 76% in 2017.
The Doctor will Skype you now
Although telemedicine allows for impressive and complicated tasks such as tele-surgery, in which a remote doctor performs surgery on a patient in another location using surgical robots, where it really shines is actually in the simpler and more routine tasks that doctors perform. Here are some examples of how telemedicine is making basic healthcare services more accessible to the people who need them:
- Chronic Health Management Services – Telemedicine has made it possible for doctors and nurses to monitor remote patients’ blood pressure, weight, activity, heart patterns, glucose levels, and other vital signs; and have all of this data wirelessly sent to the doctor assigned to them.
- Real-Time Diagnosis and Consultation Services – Telemedicine allows remote doctors to diagnose a patient in real-time using video conferencing and telepresence robots, apps, and software. This allows both the doctor and the patient to save money by not having to make the trip to the hospital. Remote Diagnosis and Consultation also allows patients to be able to interact and consult with doctors outside of the hospital or clinic’s normal hours without the need to make an appointment: even when the hospital or clinic is closed.
- Sleep Disorder Treatment Services – Telemedicine can allow remote patients to be monitored by doctors for a variety of sleep-related conditions such as sleep apnea and sleep deprivation by using electronic sensors that can determine the patient’s body positions, sleeping patterns, vital signs, and breathing. The data collected will then allow the doctor to determine the best course for both direct and investigatory treatment to enhance the quality of the patient’s sleep.
- Medical Prescription Compliance – Telemedicine lets remote doctors check on whether their patients are taking their required medicines at the proper times, and can remind them about it if they neglect to do so. Reminding patients to take their daily medication at the proper times will allow doctors to monitor their patients’ treatment and health, lessens the chance of health risks, and decreases the likelihood of hospital admission.
- Affordable Healthcare for All – Telemedicine brings the concept of universal healthcare one step closer to fruition. It allows the patient to have access to medical professionals and services in a convenient and cost-effective way. It allows their computer, tablet, or smart phone to become virtual extensions of their hospital or clinic.
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