According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is, by definition, “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status”. In simpler terms, it is the use of technology to allow doctors and healthcare professionals to connect with patients and other healthcare providers, regardless of location or distance. Doctors can transmit medical data, imagery, and their own professional opinion from one site to another with ease.
Telemedicine was originally pioneered some 40 years ago, with the advent of videotelephony. Doctors used image phones, which transmitted still images over POTS-type telephone lines, to communicate with other practitioners or patients in real-time.
Since its humble beginnings, the advent of the internet, wireless devices, and even mobile applications have continued to further its development and use.
Telemedicine can be broken down into three main forms: Store-and-Forward, Remote Monitoring, and Interactive Services.
Store-and-Forward Telemedicine involves gathering medical data to transmit in electronic form to a physician or a specialist with the intent of later assessment.
Remote Monitoring involves monitoring a patient remotely via a device or devices. This finds its application largely in management and care of chronic illnesses.
The third form, Interactive Telemedicine, allows for real-time interaction between physician and patient. This includes phone conversations, online communication, and home visits. The resulting interaction is comparable to face-to-face consultations, but much more cost and time effective.
These various forms have found application in nearly every discipline of modern medicine, including dermatology, pathology, radiology, dentistry, psychiatry, and more. Telemedicine has even been applied in surgical procedures, where doctors can perform invasive surgeries without needing to be physically present, via remote surgery and high speed data connections.
Telemedicine has tremendous potential for good. With it, healthcare professionals and organizations have the ability to extend their reach far beyond their own offices.
But the greatest benefits of telemedicine are the advantages seen by patients. Persons living in isolated or rural areas can benefit from the professional care and opinion of healthcare professionals many miles away, without the concern of making difficult or sometimes possible travel arrangements. Also, persons who may be uncomfortable with a physical doctor’s office can bypass an in-person visit.
Telemedicine also helps to prevent the spread of infectious diseases & parasites as diagnosis can be made with little or no physical contact. This is particularly helpful in preventing the spread of MRSA.
Other benefits include reduced cost of medical care, greater accessibility to professional opinion, and overall improved quality of care.