Telemedicine is transforming healthcare by providing patients convenient access to medical care at a low cost. The accessibility of telemedicine ensures that as long as an individual has an electronic communication device, he or she can receive healthcare, no matter location. Because of this, telemedicine is growing quickly, as medical researchers develop a wider variety of ways that it can be used.
There are still some glitches that need to be worked out, such as ensuring that quality remains high across all websites offering e-health services. But due to convenience, many people are beginning to turn to and trust an online doctor as much as local doctors. However, telemedicine did not first develop with the goal of convenience; its history, as well as its current and future uses, is much more nuanced than you might imagine.
The History of Telemedicine
If you think that telemedicine first developed to provide healthcare access for people in desolate places, you would be right. But we are talking about astronauts in space, not village dwellers in Northern Alaska. Telemedicine technology was first developed by NASA in the 1960s to take care of astronauts’ medical needs while they were in space. In fact, NASA implanted telemedicine technology into early spacesuits and space shuttles to monitor astronauts’ health.
But the field of telemedicine was so ripe for expansion that it didn’t take long before the technology was used here on Earth. In 1967, Logan International Airport in Boston linked to Massachusetts General Hospital to provide travelers with medical care 24 hours a day. In the early 1970s, 26 sites in Alaska were chosen as test sites for telemedicine satellites.
Since then, telemedicine has proliferated, providing people in rural areas convenient access to healthcare. Not only that, but telemedicine addresses the needs of those who are homebound or disabled. It also provides a solution for those who need a quick doctor’s note for work or school.
In addition, telemedicine is an inexpensive, 24/7 alternative to the emergency room when regular doctor’s offices are closed. Because doctors can be anywhere in the world (in different time zones), there is sure to be a healthcare provider to address patients’ needs around the clock.
For all of these reasons, telemedicine is here to stay. And by all estimates, it will begin to dominate the healthcare market in the coming years.
In 2013, only 350,000 U.S. patients took advantage of telemedicine technology. But by 2018, it is estimated that at least 7 million U.S. patients will use telemedicine—a 19,000% increase in 5 short years. This reflects an overall increase in trust of telemedicine services.
But even if there is widespread trust in the care provided through telemedicine, it would not be an option for many people if insurance refused to cover it. Although telemedicine is known for being less expensive than a traditional doctor’s visit, the out-of-pocked expense might still be prohibitive for people without the help of insurance. In this respect, there is good news for telemedicine. Over half of states already require insurance companies to cover telemedicine services, and many workplaces and universities are already offering telemedicine to workers and students.
Because of these insurance provisions, telemedicine is commonly used for quick checkups and easy access to necessary prescription medication and sick notes for work or school. It is also currently used as a way to access healthcare in remote places.
But newly-developed telemedicine technology is paving the way for many other uses for telemedicine in the near future.
The Future of Telemedicine
There is already technology on the market to make telemedicine even more revolutionary and helpful than it already is. For instance, while it has been difficult in the past for doctors to obtain vital signs and physiological measures from remote patients, new technology makes this possible. When it comes to accurate diagnoses, this technology advances telemedicine by leaps and bounds. Some of these diagnostic technologies include:
The Handheld Telemedicine Kit
This handy little tool kit for healthcare professionals includes all the necessary tools for a thorough patient exam. These tools are compatible with tablet computers. This modern “doctor’s bag” enables doctors and nurses to capture, store, and transmit patient data and images.
A retinal imaging system created by TrueVision that allows doctors to remotely screen for diabetic retinopathy. With EyePrevent, the patient does not have to undergo pupil dilation.
ECGs are vital for the diagnosis of heart problems. But until now they have been almost impossible to perform remotely because ECGs relied on the proper placement of electrodes and wires. But the PhysioGlove changes this. It is a wire-free ECG recording glove worn on the patient’s left arm, making ECGs easier than ever to perform remotely.
Commwell’s Health-e-Chair is a highly-advanced armchair loaded with biosensors to measure basic vital signs like blood oxygen saturation, motion analysis, and reflex response time. This easy-to-use chair requires no prior training. Imagine sitting back in your armchair while talking with a doctor who is able to see a live tracking of your blood pressure even though he or she is in another country.
But new telemedicine technology does more than aid in diagnosis. It also helps make telemedicine more useful and practical. Here are some examples:
This technology company has developed a no-install, one-click video interface for patients and doctors to easily communicate. As an added bonus, it is compatible with stethoscopes, otoscopes, ultrasounds, X-rays, and other important diagnostic technology.
Second Opinion Telemedicine Solutions
This technology makes it easier than ever to get a second opinion online.
Readmission Avoidance Program
This program connects recently-discharged hospital patients with healthcare professionals to monitor progress and prevent future hospital visits.
The advent of these new telemedicine technologies, combined with increased patient trust in telemedicine will likely lead to exponential growth in the field of telemedicine. Although telemedicine has been around for over 50 years, the next ten years are likely to witness a huge, unprecedented boom. Technology companies who recognize this and respond accordingly will capitalize on profits.