The Impact of Telemedicine in Modern Healthcare
Healthcare is frequently in the news due to concerns over costs and the need to make services more accessible to individuals with limited resources. Doctor shortages in rural areas are not new, meaning that some residents may rarely see a healthcare provider. Even when those areas have primary care doctors, patients who need to see a specialist may have to travel two hours or more to an urban center. However, telemedicine shows much promise for giving people remote access to healthcare providers.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the practice of connecting healthcare providers with colleagues or patients through video-chat platforms very similar to social media. While it seems new because of the technology that is currently used, telemedicine in simpler forms has been around for several decades. Before Internet technology, medical staff at hospitals in the same area and at different locations have communicated via telephone conferencing and two-way television as they consulted on cases. In disaster-ravaged areas, civilian and military clinicians have communicated by radio and satellite to discuss cases and treatments. For several years email, websites, video-conferencing have enabled medical professionals to engage in discussions in real-time and transmit images for diagnostic purposes.
How does an eVisit work?
Video-conferencing as a means of consultation between health care providers has been routine for a while. However, the simplification of communication technologies brought about by the social media revolution allows doctors to use technology to engage in eVisits with patients. When medical practices offer eVisits, patients can sign up by creating accounts and logging into a secure portal where they provide personal and medical information. Depending on the illness, during an eVisit, a healthcare provider may be able to assess a patient’s condition, offer a diagnosis, and prescribe treatment. At-home medical devices that can check vital signs and blood glucose levels, as well as remote heart monitors may provide additional information to healthcare providers during eVisits.
Specific conditions telemedicine can treat
Of course, telemedicine or eVisits cannot treat all conditions. There are some issues that require a patient to see his or her provider face-to-face. However, when the doctor is familiar with a patient’s condition, an eVisit could be used for a post-operative follow-up, or to treat conditions where lab tests or hands-on examinations are not required. When a patient can describe symptoms of conditions such as sinusitis, urinary tract infection, or a rash that can be observed by imaging, a doctor may be able to prescribe treatment. When issues appear to be more complicated, the eVisit might result in the healthcare provider encouraging the patient to go to an urgent care center or inpatient facility. Recent statistics indicate that nine out of ten Americans have access to the Internet and more than 75 percent have a smartphone. Given the popularity of social media with people of all ages, engaging in an eVisit with a healthcare provider is an opportunity in which anyone who has Internet access. As the technology for both communication and diagnosing conditions remotely improves, expect to see an increase healthcare providers offering eVisits for follow-up with patients and treating minor ailments.