Online technology can help us solve a wide range of different challenges. When it comes to healthcare, telemedicine services describe how practices can provide clinical care to their patients remotely.
In this article, we’ll explore what telemedicine is and its valuable place in today’s healthcare landscape. Read on for a fascinating look at its pros, cons, and how you can apply it.
What is Telemedicine?
As technology improves rapidly, doctors and therapists now have a wealth of ways to reach their patients online, as well as connecting virtually with other practitioners involved in their care.
In telemedicine, this means that consultations, check-ups, diagnoses, assessments, and between-visit monitoring might take place through:
- Telephone calls or VOIP
- Text (SMS) or instant messaging, or
- Video calls, all of which present a direct and expedient way to deliver services and treatments from the comfort of home.
Because it involves the electronic transmission of confidential medical data, all authorized telemedicine programs must use encrypted HIPAA-compliant platforms that are specifically designed for online healthcare professionals.
With the sheer number of benefits telemedicine brings to all involved, and the increased demand from a growing tech-savvy population, telemedicine is likely here to stay.
Telemedicine can be an accessible means of receiving essential help, especially in areas where the availability and cost of healthcare present challenges.
Setting Up and Conducting Telemedicine Programs
Implementing a telemedicine system into your practice can be as simple or as complicated as you make it, but generally, the complexity of different systems will depend on the size of your practice.
For solo practitioners, and smaller e-clinics, a basic HIPAA-compliant telemedicine platform is generally more than enough.
In hospitals and larger medical organizations, more complicated functions are typically required, with customizable practice management options such as waiting rooms, payment processing, and large workload capacities generally being good benefits.
Is Telemedicine Regulated?
If you’re considering telemedical practice in your organization, it’s important to ensure that you’re complying with all regulations, offering reimbursement options, insurance requirements, and more.
If you are to be taken seriously, you need a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software system to avoid violating state laws, potentially causing you problems down the line.
Telemedicine versus Telehealth
While the terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, there are differences.
According to the World Health Organization, telemedicine refers to healing patients from a distance. Specifically, it involves the provision of medical care through interactive online audiovisual communication methods to deliver consultations, diagnosis, treatment, and information to remote clients, in much the same way they’d receive help in a brick and mortar clinic.
- There is no need for patients to schedule doctor visits in person (although the telemedical and in-person practice are typically combined in blended care models)
- Secure video connections are often used to provide greater aid to rural communities, and
- Information can be passed on swiftly between patients and providers or between providers.
Here, the key difference is that some experts consider telehealth a broader term that covers public health and education, while telemedicine is more commonly used to refer specifically to clinical health.
Put simply, telehealth is the all-encompassing term under which both telemedicine and telecare fall. Both services offer patients and practitioners a much better platform for receiving and providing care and aid.
A Brief History of Telemedicine
Telemedicine is actually not a new practice, and the concept has been around since the early 19th Century. It began simply, with a few hospitals trying to reach more remote communities in an effort to provide equal care throughout their catchment.
Back then, with the development of the communications infrastructure (e.g. telephones, radio, and telegraphs) injuries began to be reported via these methods, particularly during the Civil War.
Similarly, the telegraph system was further utilized to order more supplies and request consultations, thus becoming one of the first telemedicine networks.
By the 20th Century, things had progressed, with one of the earliest recorded uses of telemedicine being the transmission of early electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings by telephone by Wilhelm Einthoven in 1906.
By the late 1940s, the first radiographic images were sent via telephone between health centers that were over 20 plus miles apart, and by 1959, the University of Nebraska was transmitting neurological exams to its students across the campus using an interactive two-way TV.
Soon after, a CCTV system was implemented that allowed psychiatric consultations to be carried out between 2 centers over 100 miles apart.
Nowadays almost everyone has access to a mobile device or the internet, and this greatly improved accessibility makes it possible for patients in rural areas to connect with healthcare professionals more easily. With today’s telemedicine, we can monitor key health metrics, track progress, and conduct e-therapy from anywhere.
Benefits of Telemedicine to Practitioners
The range of benefits that telemedical practitioners can enjoy is wide.
Some examples of the advantages of telemedicine are summarized below:
Advantage for Practitioners
Greater ability to provide efficient, expedient healthcare
Especially as most technologies come with integrated healthcare and analysis to help you provide better treatment plans.
Increased patient engagement in healthcare
Typically, due to more frequent provider-patient contact, and more interactive patient-centered solutions.
Reduced practice management costs
Telemedicine can reduce admin burdens and errors significantly.
More convenient healthcare delivery
With virtual care, there is less need for patients to travel, and office processes run more smoothly on a smaller scale with fewer in-person visitors.
In practice, the ability to treat more patients and provide more accurate diagnoses can even make telemedicine more satisfying for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff than purely face-to-face care. In an industry that’s typically overburdened and short on resources, this is particularly important.
Benefits of Telemedicine for Patients
Patients also enjoy a range of benefits from digital healthcare – just as providers spend less on travel, patients in geographically remote areas can struggle less to access help.
Some other benefits include:
Advantage for Patients
e.g. Getting stuck in traffic, missing work, or commuting expenses.
Increased patient engagement and satisfaction
|Patients that are immobile due to illness, isolation or mental health issues, can still engage with a practitioner from their residence or hospital bed.|
More collaborative healthcare experiences
With the right software, patients can get in touch with practitioners (and vice versa) faster way, ensuring that if there is an emergency, they can get help
Greater flexibility about when, how, and where to receive treatment
Most telemedicine software allows patients to request, cancel, or reschedule appointments, and/or receive treatment through patient portals on their mobile devices
Privacy and security
As well as securely encrypting patient communications and data, virtual care software can offer anonymity. In the field of e-mental health, the ability to skip a crowded waiting room can be greatly reassuring.
Disadvantages of Telemedicine for Practitioners
It’s not all plain sailing though – for practitioners, especially, telemedicine has some downsides:
- There are still unclear guidelines and policies on how it all works, with differing laws across geographical areas
- Privacy protection, reimbursement, and healthcare laws can be complex, meaning providers must navigate them carefully
- Some illnesses and issues cannot be treated using telemedicine and still require face-to-face sessions for proper treatment
- It can be tough for new blended care practitioners to find the right software, with many solutions being expensive, and
- The wrong kind of telehealth software can involve steep learning curves, meaning time and money must be spent training staff to use it effectively.
Types of Telemedicine Services
So what different telemedicine services are available? There are numerous different ways telemedicine can help patients, but one of the main distinctions lies between synchronous and asynchronous e-health.
Synchronous or interactive telemedicine involves patients and practitioners communicating in real-time.
Store and forward, or asynchronous telemedicine involves practitioners can sharing patient data and information with practitioners in a separate location. More commonly, however, it involves treatments where patients are free to access and engage with professional solutions delivered by their teletherapist, e-physician, or online counselor at any time.
In both models, records, diagnoses and more can be shared with experts so that more accurate diagnoses are reached while reducing duplicate testing and enlarging the knowledge base of all practitioners.
Examples of Telemedicine
Some examples of telemedicine in practice include:
- Remote patient monitoring – a popular way for practitioners to help mobility-challenged patients by monitoring symptoms and health indicators
- Teleradiology – e.g. small hospitals can now send X-rays to radiologists to get faster results, and
- Telepsychiatry is another area that has taken to telemedicine. Qualified psychiatrists can now make medical diagnoses simply by interacting with patients via video calls.
The list is almost endless now with teledermatology, teleophthalmology, teleobstetrics, telepathology, and telerehabilitation just scratching the surface of possibilities.
In short, telemedicine can be used for virtually anything you can think of. By affording you the chance to reach more patients, telemedicine is worth taking a look at to see how it can help your practice.
Today’s technology presents myriad opportunities for providers to connect with one another and treat their patients. With good evidence in support of its efficacy and efficiency, telemedicine is here to stay.
If you’re already using e-therapy, telepsychiatry, or digital healthcare in your practice, we’d love to hear about your experiences in a comment.
We hope you enjoyed this article. If you’re ready to help more patients, Quenza’s 30-day telemedicine software trial will help you share your healthcare solutions online.
Developed by blended care professionals, Quenza’s digital telemedicine toolkit will give you everything you need to share effective, engaging treatments with those you help, so that you can take your practice digital today.
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- ^ AAFP. (2021). What’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth? AAFP. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/news/media-center/kits/telemedicine-and-telehealth.html
- ^ Stowe, S., & Harding, S. (2010). Telecare, telehealth and telemedicine. European Geriatric Medicine, 1(3), 193-197.
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- ^ Evisit.com. (2021). What is Telemedicine? Retrieved from https://evisit.com/resources/what-is-telemedicine/
- ^ Barold, S. S. (2003). Willem Einthoven and the birth of clinical electrocardiography a hundred years ago. Cardiac Electrophysiology Review, 7(1), 99-104.
- ^ Chiron. (2021). Definitive Guide to Telemedicine. Retrieved from https://chironhealth.com/definitive-guide-to-telemedicine/about-telemedicine/telemedicine-faqs/