We live in a digital era where technology seems to be in charge of every aspect of our lives. Every sector is increasingly becoming dependent on technology for efficiency and effective smooth running of activities. In the health care sector, modern-age technology promises a great deal of improvement as far as quality (particularly health care delivery mechanisms) is concerned.
With the rising rates of chronic illness, the aging population, shortage of health professional workforce, and the various geographical and socioeconomic factors hindering access to quality healthcare services there is a need for innovations that can make health services better and more accessible. Thus the rise of telemedicine.
Telemedicine is an incredible solution for bolstering access, quality of care, and public health. The field of telemedicine is moving forward because of technological advancement, broadband expansion, the involvement of experts, the clear proof of its efficiency, and consumer demand, but in order for it to be effectively implemented into day-to-day services in this century, we need to move beyond the public policy of the twentieth century.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine can be defined as performing a medical practice using electronic data services that connect a healthcare professional at one location to a patient at another location. Such services can be delivered live, through high-definition interactive teleconferencing, or asynchronous, using store-and-forward technologies, portable health tools, or remote patient monitoring. It has been used for many purposes ranging from screening for diabetic retinopathy and management of chronic conditions such as diabetes to remote diagnosis and treatment of strokes, wound care facilitated by storage-and-forward image programs, and collaborative management of cancers by healthcare professionals in separate areas.
This technology has been designed to match the various methods of health care delivery. The options for telemedicine in hospitals and medical practices differ depending on the institution’s needs, medical professionals’ expertise, and the model which they choose to use. Both primary care and specialty clinicians can communicate to one another or with their patients via live interactive video conferencing, provide clinical services using store-and-forward technology, serve the committees of the companies offering telemedicine services, or monitor the progress of patients in their monitoring system. Healthcare facilities may opt to work with telemedicine technology for resolving service gaps, optimizing triage, or reducing multiple admissions.
Telemedicine services providers provide healthcare facilities with direct patient care and specialist services. Some offer contracted services to hospitals, rehabilitative institutions, and other organizations.
Benefits of telemedicine.
Benefits to the Providers
Healthcare networks, private practices, and specialist nursing facilities use telemedicine to deliver care more effectively. Technologies that are incorporated with telemedicine applications such as electronic health records, AI diagnostics, and medical streaming devices can greatly serve providers in their diagnosis and treatment. The latter helps physicians to track patients in real-time and change plan of care where appropriate. In the end, this leads to improved patient outcomes.
Providers will also benefit from increased sales. Physicians will see more patients using telemedicine without the need to recruit more personnel or expand the workspace.
Benefits to the patients
Thanks to telemedicine, patients who formerly had minimal access to health care facilities will now see a health care provider in the comfort of their house. Elderly people who would like to age in place can do this now with the use of medical streaming devices. Disease transmission is minimized as individuals with infectious diseases do not have to expose them to those in the packed hospital rooms.
Telemedicine also assists patients in the following ways:
- Transportation: Patients should stop spending gas money or wasting time on video-consultation traffic.
- No skipping work: Nowadays, individuals may arrange an appointment during work breaks or even after office hours.
- Childcare/Eldercare Challenges.
Generally, telemedicine facilitates patient triage, decreases traffic pressures for treatment, encourages timely access to care, and offers opportunities for the dedication and self-management of patients. Considerable evidence in the statistical analyses indicates that telemedicine enhances health outcomes and lowers treatment costs in many clinical specialties. These findings are robust and documented. The rates of patient satisfaction have increased, and demand from patients for telehealth services has considerably grown, partly due to the fact that it lowers the burden and costs associated with care transportation at local levels in retail hospitals, at work, or home.
Disadvantages and challenges faced by telemedicine
While telemedicine has many advantages, there are also some downsides to it. Providers, payers, and policymakers all acknowledge that there are certain grey areas that seem to be frustrating to deal with. Although the sector will expand significantly in the next decade, it will present both practical and technical difficulties.
Since technology is rising at such a high speed, it has been challenging for lawmakers to keep up with the industry. There is a great deal of confusion about topics such as payment plans, safety, and security of personal data and health regulations. In addition, the policies of telemedicine are different in every state.
Currently, there are only 29 states with laws on fairness in telemedicine that enable private payers to pay the same amount for visitation in person. As additional States enact parity laws, private payers can lay down further rules and restrictions on telemedicine services. While this is a good step, there is still confusion about treatment costs, billing practices, and other facets of telemedicine.
Reduced Face-to-Face Visits.
Many medical professionals and their patients (particularly older adults) find it difficult to adjust to telemedicine. Physicians are very worried about the poor management of patients. Although advancements in medicine have made technology more effective, sometimes device failures occur. There is also the risk of mistakes since it is not always easy for machines to grasp the human touch.
Technology is expensive.
Telemedical systems will show that it takes a great deal of time and resources. The introduction of a new system includes preparation, and this transition is often difficult for workers to welcome. Practice managers, nurses, doctors, and more must learn how to use the method in order to demonstrate the advantages of the procedures. Although telemedicine is costly at the start, health systems ought to see a good investment return over time due to more patients and fewer employees.
In conclusion, telemedicine promises a brighter future for the healthcare system (both to the patients and the physicians), and, if given a chance, will positively revolutionize the entire system as we know it.
As telecommunication technologies and health apps become more ubiquitous and affordable, they expand opportunities for mental health professionals to provide quality care. However, physical distance as well as technology itself can create challenges to safe and ethical practice. Such challenges are manageable when following the best practices outlined in A Practitioner’s Guide to Telemental Health.