Telemedicine is something that’s existed as a concept pretty much since the invention of the phone. Every form of effective long distance communication has been and can be used for medical consultations, whether between professionals, or between a professional and a patient. It was the recent advances of the Internet however, that brought telemedicine to the limelight and made it a hot topic of discussion.
In essence, telemedicine can have many forms – it’s used daily by organizations such as Doctors Without Borders to relay different questions regarding troublesome cases from countries across the planet. It’s used for providing medical consultations to places and people that simply don’t have the physical access to a medical professional. And it’s also used to save time for both professionals and patients when it comes to minor problems.
So what are the main ways telemedicine can improve a patient’s health and lower the medical costs of their treatment?
· Easier and faster patient–professional contact. In cases of emergencies, speed is often of the essence. Speed, that face-to-face consultation sometimes can’t provide, but telemedicine can. The amount of lives that have been saved by the swiftness of telemedicine rises astronomically every consecutive year and is hard proof of its benefits.
· Otherwise impossible or near-impossible contact between patients and doctors is made possible by telemedicine. Today, it connects instantly doctors and patients across the globe, making distances meaningless. This not only gives – quite literally – life to many people, but at the very least saves expenses to both sides.
· Telemedicine also provides easier and faster contact between professionals. Instead of doctors having to make decisions without consulting with colleagues, or wasting time in waiting for said consult, Telemedicine allows for quick and effective dialogue between professionals, ensuring the best decision is made as often as possible.
· Multiple studies have found a drastic decrease in the average length of patient’s stay in hospital, as well as in deaths overall due to the usage of Telemedicine. In 2015 a staggering 35% decrease was measured in patients’ average length of stay in ICUs, as well as 30% less deaths than predicted. That’s a difference of both thousands of lives, and huge reduction of hospital expenses. The US Telemedicine Association found that the amount of Americans that have went through any type of remote medical care during that year is above 15 million, with the numbers being even higher in 2016.
· Telemedicine allows for much faster reaction time in both diagnosis and additional examinations. Something like this saves not only the patient’s time (and potentially – live), but also saves the time of the medical professional, helping him or her be more efficient in his/her work. And with time being pretty much the most important resource in the medical field (or at the very least – one of the most important ones), including in First World countries, where hospitals are still frequently overcrowded – this makes telemedicine an invaluable asset.
· Telemedicine is a way for more frequent consultations with professionals. It’s a known fact that the vast majority of health problems escalate because they are usually caught too late. And that is so, because most people don’t like visiting hospitals and doctors, and don’t like spending time for routine examinations. Telemedicine makes prophylactic examinations so easy and quick, that an unthinkable amount of diseases and other health problems that would’ve otherwise gone unseen, are now caught in their earlier stages, when they are easiest to treat.
· Telemedicine is also a very potent way for doctors to interact with the online community and to improve their status as a skilled medical professional.
While these and other pluses of telemedicine are overwhelmingly positive, it’s undeniable that the field still has quite a way to go. Although it’s just as good as face-to-face interaction with the patient in many cases, in some – it’s just not the same. We can unfortunately witness the opposite side of things as well – wrong diagnoses and mistreatment of problems that could have been correctly done in person. However, those things are both eclipsed by the numerous positives of telemedicine, and are subject of improvement. With the advances done in both the online sphere and in medical technology, as well as the continuous refining of the rules of telemedicine, such problems are dropping at encouragingly high rate. Simply put, it’s getting undeniable that telemedicine is going to be a huge part of the future of medicine as a whole.