What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine can be defined as the use of technology (computers, video, phone, messaging) by a physician to diagnose and treat patients in a remote location.
Telemedicine enables health care professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat individuals at a distance using telecommunications technology. The approach has been through an impressive evolution in the last decade and it is becoming an increasingly vital part of the American healthcare system.
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 first successes, two health centers in Pennsylvania were able to transmit radiologic images over the phone.
In the early days, telemedicine was used mainly to connect physicians 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 required to conduct remote visits remained expensive and complex, so the use of the approach, while growing, 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 individuals 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 frequently used interchangeably, there is a distinction between the two.
The term telehealth consists of a wide range of technologies and services to provide patient care and enhance 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, in addition to 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 individuals without an in-person visit. Telemedicine technology is frequently used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a lot of other clinical services that can be provided remotely through secure video and audio connections.
Utilizing telemedicine as an alternative to in-person visits has a host of advantages for patients and providers alike.
- Less time away from work
- No traveling expenses or time
- Less interference with child or elder care responsibilities
- No exposure to other potentially infectious individuals
- Increased revenue
- Improved office efficiency
- An answer to the competitive threat of retail health clinics and online only providers
- Better patient follow through and improved health results
- Fewer missed appointments and cancellations
- Private payer reimbursement
There are few limitations to how telemedicine can be used. Here are a few examples of how it is being utilized 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 increasing rate of chronic disease is a significant problem for our health system. It is a prime candidate for using telemedicine software because it makes it easier and less expensive for individuals to maintain control over their health.
Remote post-hospitalization care
One telehealth program for individuals with congestive heart failure reduced 30-day hospital readmissions by 73 percent and six-month readmissions by half.
Preventative care support
Weight loss and smoking cessation are the keys to reducing heart disease and a number of other problems. Telemedicine can be a valuable tool in connecting providers with patients to make sure they get the help they need to be successful.
School based telehealth
When children get 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 teamed up with medical professionals to perform remote visits from the school. The provider can evaluate the urgency of the case and offer instructions or reassurance to parents.
Assisted living center support
Telemedicine software has already shown to be useful in keeping residents of assisted living facilities out of the hospital. Problems frequently take place at night or on weekends, making hospitalization the only option even for less urgent issues. With telemedicine, on-call medical professionals can conduct a remote visit to determine if hospitalization is required.