Telemedicine is a term that both healthcare providers and their clients are beginning to hear more often, and with good reason. Telemedicine technology is becoming more widely used today, and it holds the potential to facilitate a number of important changes that are underway in today's healthcare system. We'll get into the details of what telemedicine technology is and why it is such an important element of today's evolving healthcare landscape.
Telemedicine by definition started with the use of telegrams and telephone to give medical advice when needed remotely.
And with advanced telecommunications technology, physicians have the means to treat their clients via live video consultation tools. These telemedicine facilities have been in use remotely during the last 20+ years for medical needs in space and in some war zones.
Telemedicine enabled healthcare services are being provided to clients in rural and other areas of limited access due to geographic and/or socio-economic or certain cultural barriers. And of course, telemedicine is a godsend where there is a need for specialized advice or because of shortages of medical providers and/or resources in these areas.
Other examples of situations in which telemedicine can be an invaluable resource include provision of care to clients for whom traveling to a medical office may be a hardship, such as home-bound healthcare consumers or elderly clients with multiple morbidities may have in the past required them to go to multiple locations physically for effective management of their conditions. Members of the community who reside in nursing homes or assisted living facilities are blessed by telemedicine as it is providing a professional consultation that works for them like a 'virtual' version of the old-fashioned house-call.
Telemedicine is the way of the future as it is now commonly used to enable 'virtual' connections: including live consultations, real-time data sharing and team decision making. It is bringing new bonds of expertise between small community hospitals and larger, more advanced medical facilities. This capability is often used to provide access to the expertise of specialists to care teams in those small hospitals who are faced with complex or high-risk medical issues, enabling more effective treatment.
A good example of this use of telemedicine technology is a pilot program instituted by Mayo Clinic, which is using emergency video telemedicine to connect community hospitals with their Division of Neonatal Medicine in order to assist community care teams with advanced newborn resuscitation interventions during high-risk, complex deliveries. During those deliveries, neonatologists are able to visually assess babies and collaborate with local care teams to manage their treatment, the technology effectively bringing these specialists to the bedside alongside the local medical professionals. Local providers who were surveyed after participation in these emergency telemedicine consults overwhelmingly agreed that the virtual assistance from neonatal specialists improved patient safety, quality of care or both.
What benefits can be realized with widespread use of telemedicine technology? As outlined above, the ability to improve access for healthcare consumers to effective clinical care is one of the primary benefits of telemedicine technology, as is the capability for virtual consults and collaboration among healthcare providers – for both routine and emergency care situations. Other benefits include the ability to more efficiently monitor, engage and educate patients via more frequent and convenient interactions. All of the above can deliver greater value to healthcare clients, contributing to improvements in quality of care, health outcomes and overall care costs.