Telemedicine is not new, but it is gaining traction among the healthcare field. What began as a means for healthcare professionals to provide care to patients in rural and remote areas 40 years ago, has become an integrated component of medical care everywhere. From hospitals to specialists and home health agencies to family practice doctors, telemedicine benefits all aspects of healthcare today.
What is telemedicine?
The most formal telemedicine definition is simply medical information that is exchanged across electronic channels. Rather than sitting with your primary care physician in his office, through telemedicine, you could be video conferencing with him online. Telemedicine utilizes all forms of electronic communication: video conferencing, online chatting, email, smart phones, and any number of wireless electronics and communication technology.
Telemedicine is not its own medical specialty, but rather a component of medical care. With its broad application and versatility, telemedicine benefits healthcare facilities of all types and scopes.
What are some of the telemedicine benefits?
- Increased access to healthcare for remote and home-bound patients
From its inception, telemedicine has provided great improvements in healthcare for rural and remote patients. With telemedicine, patients don’t have to travel long distances to consult a doctor and receive care. Hospitals and doctors alike can expand their reach with the use of telemedicine tools and services.
Telemedicine benefits even patients who don’t live in a rural area but simply have a hard time getting to their doctor. For instance, some of the leading causes of preventable death are obesity-related conditions; and yet it can be the hardest for obese patients to make the trip to the hospital. With telemedicine, they don’t have to. Their doctor can monitor them remotely and address any issues or concerns without requiring a visit to the doctor’s office.
- Improved care for emotionally isolated patients
As many as 40 million adults in the U.S. have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders and depression represent the most common mental illnesses in the country. And yet, over 80% of individuals suffering from depression will never seek medical help. There could be any number of reasons for this, but the one telemedicine benefits is simply feeling isolated.
Many patients who struggle with mental illness have a hard time reaching out. It can be nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning, let alone visit a healthcare specialist. With telemedicine, their healthcare can come to them. Online portals and peer discussion groups can provide information and much-needed support. Having access to such a large network can help reduce feelings of isolation and make it easier for mental health patients to make connections.
- Earlier diagnosis and detection
With remote monitoring and open channels of communication, telemedicine can enable doctors to diagnose patient conditions earlier. Earlier detection and diagnosis then translates into faster treatment, which in turn will reduce the chances of complications and need for more invasive treatment and hospital stays. Even for patients already admitted to a hospital, through the use of telemedicine, ICUs reported lower mortality rates, fewer complications, and shorter overall stays for patients.
- Broader access to specialists
Through telemedicine, patients also have access to a wider network of specialists. You can consult with a specialist directly or your doctor can forward your diagnostic images and information on for you. Either way, telemedicine benefits both doctor and patient by broadening the resource pool when a specialized diagnosis or treatment plan is needed. Thanks to telemedicine, you can consult a physician in Germany while living in Texas. If you have a rare disease, you can easily access an online database of all previous cases to compare them with yours.
- Lower cost
Likely one of the most cited of the telemedicine benefits is its ability to cut healthcare costs. Telemedicine reduces the need for costly hospital stays and transportation. Home monitoring systems enable patients to stay home while still getting the treatment they need. Likewise, by making healthcare mobile and granting nearly round-the-clock access, patients don’t have to miss valuable work hours to visit their doctor. Let’s not forget the added benefit of not having to sit in waiting rooms, less formally known as disease cesspools. The simple act of being able to avoid hospital waiting rooms could likely prevent the spread of numerous diseases each year.