Telemedicine makes use of technology and electronic communications to exchange medical information remotely for the use in patient care. The technologies utilized may be standard telephones, high-speed Internet access on computers, satellites, fiber optics and other devices and software. It allows for a broad array of health-related services that includes patient portals and other forms of e-health, video conferencing, nursing call centers, vital sign monitoring from another site, transmitting diagnostic images and continuing medical education courses.
Telemedicine is used to expand and broaden healthcare options in a number of different ways. Some of the most commonly employed applications of telemedicine are:
- Specialist referrals. An internist or another general practitioner may use telemedicine to consult with a specialist on a case. This might be conducted as a remote exam in which the physician visit takes place over a live video feed or by electronically providing the specialist with images and medical information on the patient for review at a later point. Many doctors have begun to use telemedicine in this respect to gain access to the knowledge and experience of top experts in all of the various specialties and subspecialties of medicine.
- Patient appointments. In areas where healthcare is not easily accessible or a patient is not readily mobile, telemedicine can provide an essential basic service. Video feeds, images and audio links can all be used to give a healthcare provider the necessary information to make a diagnosis and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
- Patient monitoring. Medical equipment provided to patients requiring home health care can be programmed to not only collect but transmit data to a facility. This enables healthcare professionals to interpret and analyze the status of the patient’s health and assess any changes that have taken place. It may be used for fetal monitoring in pregnant patients and to check glucose levels, vital signs, heart rate and other gauges of health.
- Continuing medical education. Physicians can keep abreast of the latest advances in their field of specialty by taking online courses and participating in video seminars designed to enhance their medical expertise.
- Patient health knowledge. Any individual can increase his or her awareness of any medical topic by visiting a reputable health-related website on the Internet. There are also very good forums people can visit online to become involved in ongoing discussions on specific health subjects and find out about support groups.
The benefits to patients from telemedicine are myriad. Patients can remain at home to receive the care and support of local relatives and friends. They will save money by not having to travel to see a top specialist for their particular condition. In addition, care can be provided instantly in urgent cases. An earlier diagnosis may be made when the patient does not have to wait for an appointment. Finally, patients can use telemedicine to arm themselves with knowledge that will bolster their treatment and improve their health.
The Growing Field Of Telemedicine
As the population ages, thanks in large part to the number of baby boomers, there is a greater need for more medical care at a lower cost to the healthcare system. Processes such as telemedicine can provide expert patient care, often for much less of an expense. For example, using medical monitoring devices in a home care situation is more cost effective than having home health care workers come to the location every day. And monitoring can be performed whenever necessary, not just when a health worker is on duty.
Telemedicine can also be used to reduce the number of hospital visits and admissions in many cases. Patients will easily be able to find out if a symptom such as a chronic sore throat is just a sign of a cold or allergies or if it is indicative of something more serious that requires testing simply through a convenient, video-based appointment.
There are a number of telemedicine terms with which patients should become familiar as eventually, most people will likely be receiving some medical care in this manner. The hub site, or distant site, is the location where the physician is providing the healthcare service. The originating site, or spoke site, is the place where the patient is while receiving the service. A “store and forward” is a method of transferring data for telemedicine use from one site to another. A recording device stores the image or information, then some form of telecommunication is utilized to forward the data on to the appropriate site.