What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine enables health care professionals to examine, diagnose and treat patients at a distance using telecommunications technology. The approach has been through a striking evolution in the last ten years and it is becoming an increasingly important part of the American healthcare infrastructure.
Telemedicine can be defined as using technology (computers, video, phone, messaging) by a doctor to diagnose and treat patients in a remote location.
What we recognize as telemedicine today began in the 1950's when a few hospital systems and university medical centers started to try to find ways to share information and images via telephone. In one of the initial successes, two health centers in Pennsylvania were able to transmit radiologic images over the phone.
In the early days, telemedicine was used mostly to connect doctors working with a patient in one location to specialists elsewhere. This was of great benefit to rural or hard to reach populations where specialists aren't readily available. Throughout the next several decades, the equipment necessary to conduct remote visits remained expensive and complex, so the use of the approach, while expanding, was limited.
The rise of the internet age brought with it profound changes for the practice of telemedicine. The expansion of smart devices, with the ability of high-quality video transmission, opened up the possibility of delivering remote healthcare to patients in their homes, workplaces or assisted living facilities as an alternative to in-person visits for both primary and specialty care.
Telemedicine vs Telehealth
Although the terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two.
The term telehealth includes a broad range of technologies and services to offer patient care and improve the healthcare delivery system overall. Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, along with clinical services. According to the World Health Organization, telehealth consists of, "Surveillance, health promotion and public health functions."
Telemedicine includes using electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. Telemedicine technology is commonly used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a host of other clinical services that can be provided remotely with secure video and audio connections.
Utilizing telemedicine as an alternative to in-person visits has a host of benefits for individuals and providers alike.
- Less time away from work
- No traveling costs or time
- Less interference with child or elder care responsibilities
- No exposure to other possibly contagious individuals
- Increased revenue
- Improved office efficiency
- An answer to the competitive threat of retail health clinics and on-line only providers
- Improved patient follow through and improved health results
- Fewer missed appointments and cancellations
- Private payer reimbursement
There are few limitations to how telemedicine can be applied. Here are a few examples of how it is being used today.
Using health software for regular follow-up visits is not only more efficient for providers and individuals, but it also increases the likelihood of follow-up, reducing missed appointments and improving patient outcomes.
Remote chronic disease management
The growing rate of chronic disease is a major challenge for our health system. It is a prime candidate for using telemedicine software because it makes it easier and less expensive for patients to maintain control over their health.
Remote post-hospitalization care
One telehealth program for individuals with congestive heart failure decreased 30-day hospital readmissions by 73 percent and six-month readmissions by half.
Preventative care assistance
Weight loss and smoking cessation are the keys to lowering cardiovascular disease and a number of other problems. Telemedicine can be an useful tool in connecting providers with patients to ensure they receive the support they need to be successful.
School based telehealth
When children become sick at school, they could see a school nurse or be picked up by their parents and taken to an urgent care center. Some innovative districts have partnered with physicians to perform remote visits from the school. The provider can evaluate the urgency of the situation and provide directions or reassurance to parents.
Assisted living center support
Telemedicine software has already shown to be beneficial in keeping residents of assisted living facilities out of the hospital. Issues frequently occur at night or on weekends, making hospitalization the only choice even for less urgent issues. With telemedicine, on-call medical professionals can perform a remote visit to determine if hospitalization is required.