Telemedicine is a virtual health field that allows doctors and health care practitioners to coordinate with their patients at a long distance. This coordination includes diagnosis, consultation, and general checkups of those suffering from chronic conditions. The communication between the doctor and patients takes place through a telecommunication device, whether via video chat or regular audio communication. Moreover, other technologies that might be used to make telecommunication happen include facsimile, medical data transmission, full-motion videos, robotics, and virtual reality interfaces. (1)
Types of Telemedicine
Telemedicine can be further divided into three types based on the kind of health care services and the technologies used to provide them at a distance.
- Interactive Medicine: Interactive Medicine involves live interaction of the physician and their patients, mostly through a video call, while protecting the privacy, security, and integrity of protected health information.
- Store and Forwards: Unlike Interactive Medicine, Store and forwards is a way to forward patient information to a health care provider who is currently working from another location.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: Remote Patient monitoring involves using specific medical tools, including mobile blood pressure and sugar devices, regularly sent to a health professional working from a remote location. This allows the doctor to check on their patient without them physically coming to the clinic to get their routine tests done.
Fields of Telemedicine
The standard fields of Telemedicine that are commonly used worldwide according to a WHO survey include:
- Tele-Psychiatry: Tele-psychiatry is a popularly practiced field of telemedicine that includes a variety of services, including psychiatric evaluation, individuals and group counseling, patient education, and management of psychiatric issues. It also involves the psychiatrists’ support of primary healthcare workers by offering psychiatric evaluations to the patients.
- Tele-Radiology: Teleradiology involves the use of Information and Communications Technology to send medical images for diagnosis and treatment planning. These medical images include X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to allow the most appropriate diagnosis and fewer errors.
- Tele-Pathology: Telepathology is a field of Telemedicine that involves the practice of pathology from afar. It requires the transfer of pathological results between two distant locations for diagnostic and research purposes.
- Tele-Dermatology: The field of tele-dermatology may be divided into three other types including:
- Video Dermatology Consultation: Video Dermatology consultation involves a live video conference or a meeting room, where real-time dermatology consultation is conducted between a dermatologist and a patient.
- Still image Dermatology Consultation: This type of Dermatological consultation is store-and-forward telemedicine, and instead of real-time consultation, medical data may be shared between the patient and doctor.
- Mobile-Assisted Dermatology Consultation: Mobile dermatology uses smartphones for dermal consultations. These platforms include emails, social media, and even telephone calls.
The Difference Between Telemedicine and Telehealth
Telehealth is a broad field of numerous health services, including health education, health information, and health care services that involve telecare and telemedicine.
Hence, while Telehealth is an all-encompassing system of health services, whether it is education or medical services, Telemedicine is a small field of Telehealth that is concerned with patient consultation and numerous diagnostic services. Even though Telemedicine is a type of Telehealth and can be used interchangeably, Telehealth does not necessarily have to be related to medical consultation and remote services between a doctor and a patient.
Examples of Telemedicine:
Some common examples of Telemedicine include:
- Video conference between a doctor and a patient from remote locations to allow diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries.
- Transfer of a high-quality photo of a patients’ injury to a doctor over a long distance.
- The patient follows up after a procedure via phone call or text messaging.
- Monitoring a patients’ health from a long distance after a complicated surgery or due to a chronic condition
- 24/7 monitoring of heart sounds or blood pressure of a critical patient from a long distance.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Increased Access to Care
Telemedicine has allowed increased access to care, especially for those living in inaccessible or remote areas. These individuals who are far from a clinic or do not have the resources to travel long diatoms to go to health professionals are often more disadvantaged when it comes to health as compared to others. However, due to Telemedicine, they too can contact health professionals and consult them related to their health queries without a need to leave their homes.
Improved Quality of Care
Quality of care is also seen to be significantly improved, especially for those suffering from mental or medical health conditions. Patients suffering from a mental disorder often do not want to leave their homes to consult a doctor face to face, which may negatively affect their health. However, due to Telemedicine, they feel more comfortable sharing their concerns and their symptoms in the comfort of their homes. A recent study shows that due to telemedicine’s advent, there have been 38% reduced hospital admissions, 31% fewer readmissions, and 63% reduced hospital stays. Moreover, patients are also seen to be more engaged in their health care.
Reduced Health Care Costs
Telemedicine has allowed healthcare to become more affordable, allowing more people to avail it and look after their health better. This is because of the lack of need to travel to a distant location, not only save one the money they would have spent on the transportation – whether it is for fuel in your car or hiring one – but also keeping the patient from taking an off from work to go to their doctor’s appointment.
Allowing A Strong Patient-Doctor Relationship
Having a strong patient-doctor relationship allows the patient to be comfortable sharing their medical history properly, leading to a more accurate diagnosis. What telemedicine aims to do is to add to the patient-doctor interaction and facilitate the communication and checkups between the face-to-face appointment, instead of replacing face to face doctor-patient interaction completely.
Improved Patient Satisfaction
The convenience that is associated with Telemedicine allows patients to be more involved in their health, leading to a more thorough engagement with their health care professional. This eventually leads to a greater amount of their queries being answered and greater satisfaction at the end of the interaction.
The Increased use of Telemedicine since the Pandemic
The telehealth and telemedicine sector has sharply risen ever since the start of the Pandemic CDC, which issued strict instruction at the beginning of February 2020, to adopt social distancing practices and use virtual means for their healthcare like telehealth. Soon there was a sharp rise in those who used Telemedicine for their health care as seen by a 50% increase in telehealth visits by the end of the first quarter of 2020. Due to this continuously increasing trend of Telehealth and telemedicine use, there needs to be continuous policy changes and regulation waivers to allow its greater use during and even after the end of the pandemic. (2)
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- Grigsby, J., Kaehny, M. M., Sandberg, E. J., Schlenker, R. E., & Shaughnessy, P. W. (1995). Effects and effectiveness of telemedicine. Health care financing review, 17(1), 115–131
- Koonin LM, Hoots B, Tsang CA, et al. Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January–March 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1595–1599