Getting to the out-patient waiting lounge unwell and realizing there is a long queue ahead of you is a familiar feeling that perhaps most of the world’s population shares. It is for that reason and others that the adoption of telemedicine is gaining traction. It gives medical practitioners the ability to evaluate a patient based on symptoms, diagnose and treat them, all without the need of seeing them in person. It sounds like a dream come true for many you’ve spent hours on end in hospitals as they are shuffled around various waiting rooms.
Telemedicine is not entirely a new phenomenal; what changed was the mediums with which it took place. Telephones and telegraphs allowed for these events to take place at the turn of the century though it was restricted to those with the means. Three types of telemedicine exist: interactive, patient monitoring and store-and-forward.
In the interactive format, doctors and patients engage in real-time conversations through approved Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act regulations video conferencing software and via telephone. Here, the patient is at their home. With remote patient monitoring (or telemonitoring) the doctor monitors patients with chronic diseases in their homes. Here, mobile medical devices collect relevant data that can be shared with and reviewed by the physician. Store-and-forward (asynchronous) takes place among doctors as they would when referring a case.
Thus far, the benefits of telemedicine are telling. At the top is a convenience, as one does not have to lose hours in a waiting room that would otherwise get spent being productive (like working or going to a barber shop) or resting. It also saves on travel costs or other associated costs that come with needing to take a trip to the doctors. It also means that those in rural areas or even in prison can receive care, or even better medical expertise then seen before. It also becomes more effectual to track medical progress as patients don’t always make return visits. Overall it reduces the stress that those with chronic illnesses endure on a trip to a follow-up.
There is, however, a few kinks in telemedicine that need unknotting. The first is that a physician cannot prescribe medication online if there was no prior relationship. There is equally the aspect of what constitutes to a physical examination, a definition that varies through states, before writing a prescription. Training on equipment and software such as Teladoc is a time consuming, along with the expense that comes with owning and using them.
For now, there continues to be research on telemedicine as to just how impactful it is and can be. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shared a review on the matter based on of 145 telemedicine studies that indicate the improved access to medical care and how it benefits those with chronic diseases. Though the transitioning to its becoming adopted is slow, many can agree that it is a step forward for medicine.
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