Telemedicine or telehealth utilizes information of communication technologies (ICT) for the delivery of healthcare services. It proved to increase the coverage by overcoming the geographical barriers and offer comfort and convenience to the patients. Telehealth is especially beneficial to the underdeveloped and rural areas where people have comparatively less accessibility to healthcare. Nevertheless, the usage of telecommunication devices is rapidly increasing. Hence, the integration of mobile devices into the healthcare system has the potential to solve many problems.
Imagine a hypothetical scenario. Let us say you suffer from diabetes. Now, telehealth can help you in more ways than you can imagine. You can update your sugar status on a webpage or blog for evaluation by your doctor. Then, you can a watch video recommended by your doctor that tells you how to control your carbohydrate intake. You might have given your samples for testing, you can check their status on an online portal. You can have face-to-face sessions with your doctor through virtual conferencing software as well. And it is hardly all. There is so much more to telehealth, we cannot even enlist all in this limited space. Telehealth examples can include awareness and infotainment services, virtual monitoring, virtual meetings, and much more. We must say, the concept of a mobile doctor does sound fascinating!
Telemedicine- the role of healthcare organizations
Through telemedicine, it is possible to make a video or call appointments with healthcare professionals. Many prestigious health organizations and medical practitioners are encouraging telemedicine to offer a better healthcare system. Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe), established by WHO (World Health Organization), reviews telemedicine practices on global and regional levels. The Observatory provides the standards and policies to the Member States.
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) provides comprehensive and distinct definitions of telemedicine and telehealth . Where telemedicine offers clinical services, telehealth is a broader concept, including healthcare training, public health education, information sharing for diagnosis and consultation, and administrative meetings through telecommunication technologies.
Another example of telemedicine utility is MyChart . It is an online platform being used by Johns Hopkins medical practitioners. Patients can book an online appointment and consult the doctors and therapists through virtual visits.
Applications and services
TeleECG system- Norway introduced a teleECG initiative for aiding early diagnosis and treatment of individuals with heart problems. The teleECG device fits into the ambulances or patient’s houses. It captures and transfers the ECG images to the hospitals where cardiologists assess them. It helped in timely medical interventions as paramedics could administer the treatment while remotely instructed by the cardiologists.
Other telemedicine services include teleradiology, telepathology, teledermatology, and telepsychiatry.
Benefits- revolutionalizing healthcare approaches
Preventing transmission of infectious diseases- During the Covid19 pandemic, healthcare professionals have been looking for alternatives to overcome the inaccessibility to health services. The offices, schools, and other activities started shifting towards the online mode. So, the necessity also directed us towards considering online health services and making them more common. The virtual visits to healthcare delivery points helped maintain social distancing to reduce the spread of the infection.
Comfort and Convenience- Patients who cannot travel long distances for routine checkups due to physical disabilities or transport issues can benefit from online consultations and virtual visits. Remote health facilities are convenient for those who cannot leave their children in daycare or have other commitments.
Time and cost-effectiveness – Besides saving time, telemedicine is cost-effective. Automating the booking system for appointments can optimize the fewer human resources. Hence, it is an efficient means of delivering healthcare in countries with a shortage of human resources. It would also reduce the cost of services.
Challenges to telehealth
One of the barriers to telemedicine is the lack of technical expertise. Older people and those with a limited technical background have difficulty adapting to the telemedicine concepts. Moreover, there is a lack of policies on telehealth in developing countries. There are some legal considerations regarding the use and sharing of patient’s data. The doctor-patient confidentiality and privacy concerns could be the reasons for avoiding internet health services. Low and middle-income countries need more information and guidance about the legal and ethical aspects. Furthermore, the general population’s perception of telehealth and their satisfaction with remote services differs from that of high-income countries. People usually perceive it as high cost and inefficient.
Organziatios Providing Telemedicine Services
Swinfen Charitable Trust Telemedicine Network
Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT), a volunteer organization, runs Swinfen Charitable Trust Telemedicine Network. The Network connects healthcare workers in developing countries with international specialists via a low-cost telemedicine system. The exchange of information through high-resolution cameras facilitates a speedy consultation process. The services also assist the physicians who are working in areas where diagnostic equipment is scarce. Using telemedicine, they can have a second opinion from other experts. SCT is based in United Kingdom (UK) and is currently collaborating with Greek Medical Charity to provide healthcare to the Greek community in Tanzania.
Transparent Hands, the largest technological platform for crowdfunding in the healthcare sector of Pakistan, offers a complete range of free healthcare services. These include medical and surgical treatments, medical camps, and telehealth facilities to the underprivileged community of Pakistan. The platform provides visibility to underprivileged patients and builds a personal and trusted bond between patients and donors while ensuring complete transparency. The Transparent Hands app is serving as a great telehealth app, contributing to the exchange of medical information.
The NGO sets up free medical camps in the rural areas of Pakistan in which, free medical consultation, free medicines, and free diagnostic tests are provided to the deserving patients. Donors from all over the world can use the Transparent Hands crowdfunding web portal and donate through 100% secure payment modes. They could select any patient, fund the treatment, and receive regular feedback and updates until the patient has recovered completely.
That would be all from this discussion. If one was to adopt an optimistic attitude, the future of telemedicine looks bright for sure. All that the telehealth companies have to do is come up with better telehealth products and services which offer a solution to current barriers and challenges.