Telemedicine and Telehealth


Healthcare in the 21st century continues to evolve in response to our needs. With present technology available, almost everything the earliest healers have dreamed of achieving has become reality. There are numerous elements that affect how healthcare is delivered. However, among the major factors that can have a significant impact are costs, logistics, and technology. Recent statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services indicate more than $10,000 in healthcare expenditure per person. With the rising cost of services, this number is unsurprisingly bound to increase over the next few years. Just a trip to the clinic or the hospital for check-ups and treatments has a domino effect of expenses. There are also patients who have difficulty traveling due to mobility issues as well as the distance of their homes to the nearest medical facilities.

Technology can provide easier delivery of healthcare especially for those who would prefer getting treatment without the hassle of going to medical facilities. The above mentioned circumstances gave rise to telemedicine which is a form of healthcare utilizing telecommunications and information technology.  The first known application of telemedicine was the use of two-way radios in Australia. In remote areas, people received medical advice from the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia using this method. Recently, the online portal BetterHelp has gained popularity with its web-based counseling and healthcare services. The website was founded by Alon Matas and Danny Bragonier in 2013 to accommodate the needs of patients who cannot travel long distances to find behavioral health counseling or therapy. Their services have expanded ever since as more people prefer to meet their counselors online in the convenience of their homes. A click here can provide more insight on the services of BetterHelp.

The first known telemedicine clinic was founded in Massachusetts by Kenneth Bird. The facility made healthcare services possible for people at Logan International Airport which was more than three miles away from the nearest hospital. More than 1,000 patients have been documented to have benefited from telemedicine facilitated by MGH doctors by utilizing a two-way audiovisual microwave circuit. During this time NASA has also been actively using the method of remote medical assistance to address the various medical concerns of their astronauts conducting scientific activities. People in rural areas are considered those who have benefited the most in remote medical assessment and treatment. In 1989 MedPhone Corporation pioneered an interactive telemedicine system by using telephone communication to aid patients requiring cardiac resuscitation. The following year saw twelve hospitals serving as treatment centers using mobile cellular communication. The terms telemedicine and telehealth are sometimes used interchangeably although it is argued that telehealth does not involve interaction or active medical service.

Telemedicine has three categories: store-and-forward, remote patient monitoring, and real-time interactive. Store-and-forward requires acquiring medical information to be relayed to a doctor who will be given time to assess the patient through such data. An online or electronic medical record is necessary for proper medical assessment. Clinicians also check patient history. Dermatology and radiology are among the few that can be made possible through the store-and-forward method. Remote monitoring is done through radio, telephone, or mobile phone assistance by a clinician. Patients however have to do the physical assessment on their end. This is applicable to patients with heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. Patients who prefer to have their privacy at home greatly benefit from receiving remote instructions from certified medical practitioners. Some conditions require real-time communication between doctor and patient. This is done by real-time interaction or the real-time interactive category of telemedicine. All you need is stable signal latency as well as a computer with video communication capability and you’re all set for online consultations.

Almost every aspect of medical care except those requiring physical contact can be made possible through remote or online assistance. This is however not without drawbacks which have also garnered criticism. Doctor and patient relationship is a major factor to consider in telemedicine. Since the interaction is remote, it may not only be the doctor who is involved in the process. This also includes service providers and the necessity of having a properly certified clinician on the other end. Sensitive data as to be taken into consideration as well as ethical medical practice. Patients must be aware of informed consent as well as their rights before being subjected to treatment, among other factors. With the mention of sensitive data, physician-patient privilege has to be honored as it has legal implications if abused.

Amid the numerous concerns surrounding telemedicine, it is undeniable that the method has furthered the efficiency of healthcare for everyone. Presently, hospitals have been gradually integrating telemedicine to their methods of treatment. Online health counselors are required to have the necessary licenses and qualifications. The Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services itself recognizes the method and has since been striving to regulate this method of healthcare. It remains to be seen what the future will be for telemedicine, but with the aid of modern technological innovations, the possibilities are endless.

Emerald contributor since March 2012


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