Diagnosing patients remotely is no longer the stuff of sci-fi – it’s an increasingly common reality. Does this mean the days of the humble doctor’s office are over? Here’s what you need to know about telemedicine and how it’s changing the world of healthcare.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine, or telehealth, is essentially a means of accessing healthcare remotely. Instead of going to see their doctor in person, patients use telecommunication and information technology, such as video calls, to interact with their healthcare professional and receive clinical healthcare from a distance.
This modern form of doctor-patient correspondence has become hugely popular, with an estimated 3.84 million patients using telemedicine around the world. This number is expected to hit 7 million next year. Global revenue is also expected to boom to $4.5 billion in 2018 – up from $440.6 million in 2013.
Beyond the four walls of the doctor’s office
Telemedicine is used in all sorts of healthcare settings, from hospitals to homes, private physician offices and other medical facilities. While telemedicine started as a way to treat and diagnose patients living in remote areas who were unable to easily reach a doctor, it has only grown in popularity thanks to its convenience. Faced with spending hours in a waiting room at the doctor’s office, or in the comfort of their own homes where they can work, relax and spend time with loved ones, it’s easy to see why many people prefer telemedicine. It’s also a great boon for those with limited mobility.
For example, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has been using telemedicine since 2010, treating more than 3000 patients remotely. This allowed doctors to forward questions or scans to experts all around the world, receiving a reply within a matter of hours. This has helped the organization work in some of the most difficult environments around the world, such as war zones and areas affected by endemic diseases.
A more efficient means of delivering healthcare services
Telemedicine has many advantages for doctors and hospitals alike. Imagine being able to diagnose your patients from wherever you have an internet connection, meaning you could easily work from home when needed. Telemedicine can also cut any travel costs and give you more time to assist patients throughout the day.
Thanks to telemedicine, hospitals can easily expand their roster of experts, meaning they have a pool of specialists at their fingertips for when they need to consult with an expert in a specific field. This also has the potential to slash waiting times for patients, freeing up much-needed beds and helping hospitals improve patient turnaround.
However, it’s not all positives. According to one study, some patients use telehealth as an add-on service, not as a replacement to in-person visits. This means a percentage of patients are still physically visiting the doctor just as frequently and as a result, spending more money. The unfortunate reality is this: if you make something easily accessible, people will want to use it.
The doctor will see you now – in virtual reality
In the future, virtual reality could help patients feel more ‘present’ with doctors. Using the right sensors, it could even let doctors touch the affected areas and feel lumps or measure heart rates. The technology is primitive at the moment, but VR in healthcare is projected to be worth $3.8 billion by 2020 – opening up a whole new virtual world for the telemedicine sector.
Needless to say, telemedicine has the potential to revolutionise patient care, providing quick and simple access to healthcare professionals for those who need it.