It’s a challenging time for all of us. Minimizing social interactions is the only way to stay safe from the virus and your typical visits to the doctor now poses a major threat of exposure to COVID-19. In our reluctance to engage in frequent visits to the hospital, obtaining the required healthcare services has become a problem. “Telemedicine” can provide the solution.
The worldwide pandemic has lead us to embrace concepts of remote work and virtual classrooms while facilitating growth of online platforms for banking, shopping, bill payments, etc. in an effort to avoid physical interactions. Similarly, the pandemic is slowly reshaping the landscape of medicine which has resulted in patients leaning towards telehealth services rather than traditional visits to the doctor.
Telemedicine is a concept where healthcare services are provided remotely i.e. without physical interaction between the medical professionals and patients. It allows healthcare personnel to monitor patients that reside home via mobile medical devices and advanced communication technology such as HIPAA compliant video-conferencing tools.
This concept allows doctor-patient interactions via video conferencing and facilitate sharing of patient information with a physician in another location. Using mobile medical devices, caregivers can collect the necessary data (e.g. blood pressure or blood sugar) and monitor their patients as needed. Telemedicine can be used for video consultations, transmission of digital imaging and remote medical diagnosis. Consequently, in-person visits with a physician are no longer needed as patients can now receive treatment from the convenience of their homes.
Accordingly, Telemedicine can be used,
- To assess whether in person treatment is needed for patients
- To provide mental health treatment, psychiatric evaluations, basic visual examinations, ophthalmic tests, and other types of therapy such as physical and speech therapy
- To review and write or renew prescriptions
- To assess a patient’s medical history
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Telehealth provides access to cost-effective, quality health services for patients regardless of their geographical location and thereby play a part in attaining universal health coverage.
Points to Consider
Telemedicine has been around for more than 30 years where medical professionals used latest technology in telecommunications at the time to improve health care. However, telemedicine did not have the expected success story that was predicted years ago.
According to a report sponsored by the telehealth provider by Avizia, surveys conducted in 2017 in United Stated that a majority of consumers (82%) do not use telehealth. The report surmised that consumers hesitate to use telemedicine due to a lack of knowledge in the proceedings or an issue of feeling at ease. The WHO explained that implementation of telehealth was hindered by lack of funding, lack of necessary infrastructure and lack of proper regulations on telehealth.
However, Telehealth’s lack of popularity could be due to its questionable reliability and effectiveness. Telehealth poses a serious threat of misdiagnosis and some of the online doctors may not be licensed or with the needed qualifications. Furthermore, there is a risk of a patient’s medical data being compromised as hackers could access such information. Therefore, it is evident that enforcing proper regulations is imperative in achieving success through telemedicine programmes.
Changing the Face of Medicine
The global pandemic brought telehealth into a new light. In order to protect both medical professionals and the patients, contactless healthcare services seemed optimal. The WHO began advocating telemedicine to monitor patients, reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus.
Medical Director for Digital Health and Telemedicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Brian Hasselfeld explained that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, health organizations were now working towards expanding their telehealth options to provide better healthcare services to their patients.
Telemedicine is a readily available solution that allows patients to continue treatment for other conditions while filtering out potential COVID-19 cases remotely. Companies can release at-home COVID-19 testing kits tied to existing remote consultation services. In addition, some companies offer free coronavirus risk assessments and this allows them to direct high-risk patients towards consulting a physician via telecommunication methods.
Moreover, telemedicine offers convenience and comfort that cannot be associated with the traditional doctor-patient visits, especially for older patients who finds moving quite difficult. It’s time saving and efficient. It allows patients in rural areas to interact with medical experts from the city and receive the best treatment possible. The treatment can be received at a lower cost as well.
Some experts predict that telemedicine may be experiencing a bubble which will burst once the pandemic recedes. But as it is more likely that we might face another global health crisis, the importance of telemedicine should be highlighted and the relevant stakeholders should ensure that the technology is integrated into the healthcare system for future emergencies as well.
By Thisari Andria
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