Telemedicine to Play a Key Role in the Future of Healthcare
How can Technology help to achieve a connected health and overcome the current challenges that face the healthcare industry?
“Telemedicine is the use of technology and telecommunications for the exchange of medical information from one place to another with an aim of improving the patient’s health status and providing health education support to the patient or the healthcare provider.”
American Telemedicine Association
The Information and Communication Technologies applied to health care have positively impacted the healthcare industry worldwide in recent decades. With the ICT revolution of the late 1990s, interest resurfaced in Telemedicine, an innovation that was likely to play an important role in the evolution and transformation of health system in the coming years. It is a key and disruptive element, not only from a technological perspective, but also socio-cultural and economic, because Telemedicine poses solutions to present day challenges such as the growing demand for health services, the aging of the Population or the need to manage large amounts of information, among others (1).
From medical services in remote locations to connected health
The transformation of New Technologies favors the expansion and application of the concepts of globality and interoperability in health organizations, thus allowing and promoting organized work environments that go beyond the mere application of Telemedicine for healthcare services in geographically remote locations.
With this new panorama, Telemedicine opens the possibility both to the provision of health services in remote locations or with a lack of specialists, as well as allowing a multidisciplinary approach that enhances the role of the primary care physician, among others.
The growing evolution and innovation in New Health Technologies is promoting the development of more Telemedicine projects. Increased broadband speeds are enabling projects that allow remote interconsultations or remote patient monitoring. Likewise, the incorporation of wireless broadband allows these initiatives to reach distant areas. This is the case of medical campaigns organized by ACRUX and the Chilean Navy, with the collaboration of NTTDATA since March 2016, to bring healthcare services to patients in remote areas with difficult access with no medical specialists.
Thanks to the interoperability of systems and telecommunications, Telemedicine facilitates the entire care process, from administrative management, diagnosis, treatment or health education. Below are some examples of application of Telemedicine:
Remote patient care
Remote medical services via connections to specialists in other locations are one of its most widespread uses.
In Chile, 57.8% of the physicians are clustered in the central region (2), obliging patients in isolated locations to travel long distances to receive care. In the case of Primary Care, Telemedicine allows remote consultations with the referral hospital, reducing waiting times in diagnosis and treatment, as well as in the number of referrals.
However, Telemedicine has been occupying more and more space in the care process. Currently, it is starting to be used for remote patient monitoring and follow-up, with the appearance of different applications for this purpose. Among them, we highlight:
- Teleconsultation. It enables remote patient monitoring, diagnosis or treatment. The exchange of clinical information is essential to this. Some examples are the transmission of x-rays or similar images (teleradiology), laboratory or electronic health record (telepathology), as well as its application in specialties such as dermatology, psychiatry or cardiology, among others.
- Telemonitoring. It enables the follow-up of patients – often times chronic patients – incorporating biological, physiological and biometric parameters. Telemonitoring plays a fundamental role in the empowerment of patients with regard to their health. Thus, it allows them to take an active role in their care, while reducing their stay in the hospital.
- Tele-surgery. Undoubtedly, this is one of the great revolutions in Telemedicine that will continue to advance over the coming years. The use of robotics and virtual reality has boosted the growing number of experimental telesurgeries.
Administrative management and patient services
Telemedicine facilitates administrative and management processes, such as the previous appointment for a consultation or requests for medical tests.
Distance education and decision support for health professionals
Telemedicine promotes communication and collaborative work between health professionals, irrespective of their geographical location.
In this regard, it does not only benefit the health professionals. In recent years, Telemedicine has been functioning as an empowerment tool for patients to deal with their illnesses, thanks to the possibility of requesting second opinions or diagnoses.
Benefits of Telemedicine
There are many benefits to Telemedicine and its future is increasingly promising for health systems and their sustainability. However, there are some key benefits such as:
- Equity in access to health services
- Allowing collaborative work between teams of clinical professionals
- Promoting the continuity of care
- Improving the efficiency of health services.
Telemedicine represents an important tool for solving the socioeconomic challenges facing health systems globally. Its role in the optimization of health resources, improved management of demand, reduction of hospital stays and reduction in the number of trips, increases the importance of this technology to improve the efficiency and sustainability of health systems.