Telemedicine is the innovative application of electronic communication for the provision of medical information. The approach arose as early as the 1800s with the discovery of the telephone and continued with the radiotelephone, the transmission of medical images.
Telemedicine has grown to encompass effective communication through numerous diverse technologies such as video conferencing, the internet, networks for real-time consultation and diagnosis, and sometimes even remote medical procedures.
This is telecommunication used in real-time interaction between a doctor and patient. It includes live video and audio patient data transfer and simultaneous communication between a doctor and patient. It is almost like a face-to-face clinical visit where the doctor can perform a physical examination and other necessary evaluations.
Store-and-forward care (asynchronous, telemedicine)
This form involves one doctor who electronically supplies all a patient’s data (pictures, videos, radiology images) to another doctor. The doctor on the receiving end is usually a specialist who then remotely interprets the information and accordingly comes to a diagnosis and recommended treatment for the patient.
Remote monitoring (home health telemedicine)
This is used for the general observation of patients who are in their own homes, or patients who suffer from a chronic condition who can have a doctor manage their care remotely. It might involve video conferencing, vital signs monitoring and the transmission of patient statistics to the hospital, as well as a warning system should something go wrong with the patient.
Advantages of telemedicine
Telemedicine can be a more comfortable approach to seeking health care for those who feel daunted by both medical professionals and their associated surroundings. As the medical information is exchanged in strict confidence this can also encourage a good relationship to develop between patients and healthcare professionals.
Telemedicine can be applied in places such as rural, remote, post-disaster communities where there is no constant healthcare made available or the necessary transport to a clinic. Therefore, emergency healthcare is provided in dangerous cases without the need for travel.
This can be an effective tool in health education by allowing the observation and supervision of newly-qualified healthcare professionals during clinical practice. Teaching files can also be made available in many forms (eg Web casts of lectures, daily presentations of cases, educational conferences) whilst eliminating the necessity of travel.
Electronic search engines (eg. MEDLARS, PUBMED) and online-purchased journals and books provide valuable cutting-edge information to health professionals. In this way, they can maintain and improve their skills.
Telemedicine adds a dimension of clinical protection for users by eliminating the possibility of transmitting infectious diseases between healthcare professionals and patients.
Computerised medical databases allow health professionals in primary care to access patient records in hospital databases of hospitals. It also allows mobile collaboration between healthcare professionals from multiple locations when cases are particularly critical or might require multidisciplinary insight.
Telemedicine facilitates effective monitoring and treatment thereby reducing the number of outpatient visits necessary.
For example, patients suffering from hypertension can use an electronic blood pressure monitor to measure their own blood pressure and transmit the results to their GP. As long as prior readings have been accurately recorded with supervision via an audio-visual link, medications can later be prescribed.
Patients with renal failure can also benefit from telemedicine. The requirement for dialysis treatments on a day-patient basis can make employment or even employment applications difficult therefore home dialysis with video link supervision may offer a convenient solution to this.
Patients and the general population are able to access information to understand the nature of their disease, its prognosis, follow their treatment progression and the possible associated side effects of this.
Having this knowledge at hand could allow a more equal decision-making process to form between patient and their doctors. Of course, it is crucial that the data presented is of good integrity so that patients become more aware of their health and the impact that their lifestyle has on their quality of life.