Telemedicine: Hype or Reality?

In 1950s there were few hospitals that took initiative in finding ways to share information and images via telephone.  After many trials, two health centers in Pennsylvania were able to transmit radiology images over the phone. Earlier, telemedicine was used mostly to connect doctors with patients from one location to the specialists placed elsewhere. This was quite beneficial for the rural population where specialists were not readily available.

Until the rise of internet, the equipment necessary to conduct remote visits remained expensive and complex with limited growth. This opened up the possibility for delivering remote healthcare to the patients in their homes giving rise to telemedicine.

Telemedicine Hype or Reality

Telemedicine refers specifically to the remote healthcare services. There is more to telemedicine than you think. It uses electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. This technology is frequently used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management and specialist consultation.

Using telemedicine as an alternative to in-person visits is a win-win situation for both the patients and the providers.

The patients appreciate it as it is:

  • The time saver
  • There are no expenses on travel
  • It has less interference with child or elderly care responsibilities
  • Does not invade privacy
  • There is no possible exposure to any contagious infections

The providers also enjoy:

  • Increase in revenue
  • Their office becomes more efficient
  • It is an answer to the competitive threat of retail health clinics and on-line providers
  • Better patient follow-up and improved health outcomes
  • Fewer missed appointments and cancellations
  • Private payer reimbursement

How has Healthcare evolved over the years with the growth of Telemedicine?

The use of ubiquitous smartphones, driven by faster internet connections is upending the delivery of healthcare.  More doctors are linking up with patients by phone, email, and webcam. Meanwhile, patients are also using new devices to relay their blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs.  Telemedicine provides medical assistance in the places where it is difficult to commute. For example, physicians in South Sudan depend on more than 100 experts around the world via the internet. Another example is of TeleICU section where critical-care doctors are constantly observing the oversized video monitors and collect data on the patients’ vital.  It is just like physicians being at the bedside of their patients.

Telemedicine has found its way into all corners of the medicine. According to American Telemedicine Association, more than 15 million Americans have received some assistance remotely last year and it is expected to grow approximately 30% this year.

Is it an easy climb for Telemedicine or there are obstacles on the way?

The rapid growth is always followed by some challenges. Each state has different sets of regulations regarding telemedicine and as we know these rules are constantly evolving. Questions are raised when it comes to insurance coverage and what services should be paid for. Also in this fast-paced technology is the quality of care maintained?

Many clinicians have rushed and offered their services and promoted them as a convenient way to get medical care without leaving home or office. For instance, consulting a random doctor for minor respiratory infection, which cannot be thoroughly evaluated as the clinician cannot listen to the heart or feel the swollen glands near your throat. Another example is of dermatology where there are more chances of misdiagnosing some serious conditions.

Different physicians groups are issuing various guidelines about what care they consider appropriate to deliver. Telemedicine’s future will depend on how these challenges are going to be addressed by regulators, providers, payers, and patients.


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