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What Is Telemedicine?

Do you ever think about how great it would be if you could just ask a doctor about that little ache or itch you have without actually going to the doctor’s? We all hate the hassle of appointing that visit and having to think on your feet when the receptionist asks you if the time completely different from what you’ve decided on before making the call would be good for you. Then follows the nuisance of taking time off work to commute to the clinic. And then you spend those awfully nervous 5-15 minutes in the waiting lounge, followed by just 15-30 minutes in your doctor’s office only to find out that it was nothing major. It all adds up to quite a substantial amount of time that could, in fact, easily be spared.

Telemedicine, which is a practice of examining, diagnosing and treating patients remotely using Internet connection and technology, like smartphone, computer or other devices, originated in the early days of the US space program and stemmed from the need for doctors to remotely monitor the astronauts’ physiological condition. It then continued to develop in response to the need to reach out to remote areas of the country and to rural communities, its ultimate goal being the provision of healthcare regardless of geography.

 

An experiment conducted in 2015 looked at 200 chronic diabetes patients living in a rural area with the closest big hospital a 90-minute drive away. They were given tablets that they used for having regular tele-checkups. After a year of such remote care they showed a marked improvement in their condition and stayed out of hospital. This just goes to show how much of a difference telemedicine can and should make in rural settings.

Although telemedicine appeared in the times of landline phones and this is where it gets its name, it is easier now than ever to envision the development and rebirth of such technology with ever-increasing speed of Internet connection and ubiquitous smartphones. It is, in fact, so much in line with the way communication is developing that it seems odd that Internet-driven telemedicine hasn’t become a part of our lives yet.

The advantages that telemedicine has over traditional face-to-face hospital-bound visits are numerous both for patients and healthcare professionals alike. For patients, it is, above all, about time-efficiency (less time spent away from work and on travel), cost-efficiency (travel expenses) and a lower likelihood of contracting a disease through exposure to contagious patients. Among other benefits is the potential to build a more meaningful patient-doctor connection, which would allow doctors to promote healthy lifestyle choices. For doctors, the advantage lies, first and foremost, in the time- and cost-efficiency that this practice allows for. It reduced the number of cancellations by giving doctors the opportunity to reach out to patients and remind them about the appointment even as it has already started.

The variety of procedures available through telemedicine is wide, ranging from diagnosing common viruses, infections and allergies, to doing post-surgery care and reviewing test results. There is a separate branch of telemedicine that is concerned with interactions between health professionals across geographical and organizational borders and allows almost immediate sharing of radiological and pathological test results for interpretation and consultation. All of this creates conditions for truly fast-paced healthcare that can start addressing most issues in a matter of hours, as opposed to days or weeks.

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