It wasn’t that long ago that the only way to get professional medical care was to visit a hospital or doctor’s office or rely on country doctors to make house calls to remote areas. These days, medical care has changed dramatically thanks to the growth of information and communications technology.
With the expansion of the internet and mobile devices, people can now send and receive information or speak live with healthcare professionals at the push of a button. Although there are still plenty of instances in which visiting a medical facility is advisable or necessary, a surprising amount of patient care can be conducted via telemedicine.
So what exactly is telemedicine? Here are a few basics to help you understand this growing field and what it means for both doctors and patients.
Telemedicine can be loosely defined as the use of electronic communication mediums to exchange medical information. This could include the use of computers, smartphones, and other medical devices as a means of supporting and in some cases supplementing standard healthcare services, especially in a remote capacity.
Telemedicine is closely linked to telehealth (although the latter encompasses a broader category that includes telemedicine). It also goes hand-in-hand with health informatics (or health information technology), which is primarily concerned with developing tools and systems that aid in providing healthcare services.
To be clear, the field of health informatics supplies the relevant technologies to make telemedicine possible, whereas telemedicine is focused on providing new avenues for patient care.
The benefits of telemedicine for patients are myriad, and many people have already experienced some of them. For example, many doctors and hospitals are upgrading to secure electronic records, management services, and databases that allow multiple doctors to input patient information that can then be accessed remotely by the patients themselves.
Some doctors are also conducting phone or video conferences or even emailing with patients to discuss symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments so that patients need not wait for a scheduled office visit (depending on the situation, the patient, and so on). There has also been an increase in tools for in-home use that can monitor or test patients and then transmit data back to doctors.
On the patient side, this increases convenience, decreases cost, and in some cases allows for a a greater degree of patient-controlled care. In addition, it can help to ensure that patients in remote locations have access to high-quality healthcare.
For overworked doctors, telemedicine can be a godsend. A percentage of patients that schedule in-office visits won’t benefit from coming into the office – they can receive the same diagnosis by phone or email with the proper tools in place.
This can save everyone time and allow doctors to devote more energy and better care to patients that really need to be seen in person.