Telemedicine is an interesting and relatively new concept that has multiple benefits for all those involved. What is telemedicine? Basically, telemedicine is the use of electronic methods and new technology to provide medical assistance to patients. Clearly, this is an alternative to actual doctor's visits, and you may end up using telemedicine either because you have no other choice or because you choose to. The use of technology in medicine began around 1950, when two hospitals exchanged radiologic images via telephone. People then started thinking, “Why stop there?” Of course, as technology becomes more advanced and lightning-quick, the concept of telemedicine and telemedicine jobs for physicians are growing with every passing day. The first use of telemedicine was to reach people in remote areas who were too far away from any physicians and medical centers. As time passed, the government and NASA, especially, started taking an interest in telemedicine and ways to further utilize it. Telemedicine has even been used to reach Native American tribes.
Now, telemedicine has become more accessible to almost all citizens in the United States. I doubt there’s a house in 2017 America that doesn’t have at least one laptop and a smartphone, both being equipped with cameras. Certainly, at least one person in each household has used video chatting at least once through Skype or some other application. Telemedicine has benefits for both physicians and patients. It’s an easy and convenient way for both to connect. Telemedicine jobs for physicians also allow them to make extra money doing something related to their field.
Telehealth is another term that people often confuse with telemedicine. According to the WHO, telehealth includes “surveillance, health promotion, and public health functions.” These features make it a much broader concept than telemedicine. Telemedicine is simply providing health services remotely. Telehealth includes services that aren’t clinical as well. These services are items such as health education, training, and administrative meetings. This basically means that telemedicine can be considered a subdivision of telehealth.
To make the distinction clearer, let me give you a few examples of both. Telehealth would include an application that allows video chat for medical education and an app that would alert the residents of a certain area in case an outbreak happens. Both of these wouldn’t be included under the title of telemedicine. On the other hand, uses of telemedicine would include applications that allow doctors to communicate with their patients and with each other for quick consultations. These items are what telemedicine is all about and would also fall under the umbrella of telehealth. As things evolve and technological medical services become more available, it’s likely that these terms will become more interchangeable.
Let’s talk about a few ways physicians can use telemedicine. The most common use is the one we already mentioned, which is video chat. This method requires a decent internet connection, at the very least, and besides allowing a doctor to video chat with his/her patients, it can also allow them to supervise a non-MD clinician during their meeting with a patient. Another way is when primary care physicians seek consultations from specialists. This can happen in real time or, if they’re not available at the same time, the primary care physician can simply attach all the patient’s documents, including imaging or investigations done, and send them to the specialist, who will receive them and reply when available. Voice notes can also be attached if needed to clarify anything. Another very common utilization of telemedicine is home observation. A patient may need to be observed by a healthcare professional, but, at the same time, their condition isn’t severe enough that it demands a hospital stay. This way, patients can go back to the comfort of their homes and doctors can keep an eye on them remotely. Of course, this will require more equipment, such as vital signs monitors and a way to keep up with patient’s stats and an alarm in case urgent intervention is required. It’s still a great way to monitor patients without keeping them at a hospital where they’re at risk of hospital-acquired infections and other hazards.
NASA has its own way of taking advantage of telemedicine. We say telemedicine was originally used to reach people in remote locations; well, what’s more remote than the International Space Station? Approximately every four months, NASA sends a team of astronauts to the space station to stay there for a period of six to twelve months. Obviously, these people will require some sort of medical attention. Before any mission takes off, a team of doctors and specialists prepare the medical needs of the team taking off based on multiple factors. Based on these needs, the group leaving for the International Space Station takes with it certain medications and instruments. The group is also trained on simple things to do in certain medical situations. This allows members on the space station to react quickly to any medical emergency and then talk to the doctors on Earth to discuss what to do next. They’re also trained on how best to communicate with doctors to make the conversation as efficient and detailed as possible.
As previously stated, there are many benefits to telemedicine that include both the physicians and patients. For doctors, it’s a great way to receive training. Telemedicine can be used by a senior doctor to remotely supervise a non-MD clinician or a junior doctor while they deal with a patient. It also enables doctors to provide the best health service they can to their patients, since they can consult specialists at a click of a button. This enables them to send everything they need to about the patient straightaway, which saves a lot of time and prevents misunderstandings. It’s a way for doctors to benefit from medical courses from their clinic or even home, although this falls more under the category of telehealth.
Telemedicine is a great way for physicians to make extra money, too. Consider it a freelance job for physicians, except it’s still related to medicine. For a variety of reasons, a doctor might be looking to make extra money. Telemedicine lets them do this without it affecting their practice and the quality of care they provide for their patients. The process takes very little time, but is very beneficial. In fact, it can be an extra way to learn. Junior doctors can use telemedicine to make more money, and they can be monitored by senior physicians to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to. Even without monitoring, junior doctors can work normally and seek a consultation, if needed. Doctors can even work from home for instance or during their days off for brief periods of time keeping them close to medicine and making money.
Besides the money, a service such as this one can help doctors expand their business and get more exposure. If you establish a reputation on the application you’re using, more patients will seek your consults, and this will also reflect positively on your practice. More patients will hear about you and when they realize you’re good at this being-a-doctor gig, they’ll start visiting your clinic. Even if they don’t because they don’t live near your office, you’re still building a reputation. You’re basically building a reputation for yourself doing minimal work, which will increase the number of patients who visit your office as you become more popular and known as a more-than-decent physician. It’ll also help you gain a reputation with senior doctors as you work with them through telemedicine and they realize you’re quite a good doctor. This will help you gain respect among your peers. For all these benefits, you should be paying rather than receiving money. As your reputation grows and you become more of an expert in your field, you’ll start to become a senior doctor for others and you’ll be the one sought for advice. So, essentially, after becoming well-known among those who are senior to you, you’ll become well-known to those younger than you as well.
Some doctors love medicine too much to quit, but retirement beckons, or maybe they can no longer practice medicine as much as they’d like due to circumstances beyond their control. For these doctors, telemedicine is a gateway to practicing medicine. If their issue is the physical necessity of being at their office often, or because they’ve led a long successful career and it feels like it’s time to rest and hit the beach, they can still fulfill their passion for practicing medicine via telemedicine. This is a great feature that’ll also benefit patients, because a doctor who can’t quit medicine is one who loves it and is therefore good at it.
Of course, there are benefits for patients as well. For starters, it saves them a lot of time spent waiting in doctors’ offices, which is something many patients complain about. It’ll also save money in case a patient doesn’t live near a health provider or if they have to travel to a distant location to seek a specialist. Perhaps the best feature is the ability to provide urgent care and assistance. The fact that it can be used to monitor patients at home is also a major plus. Most people don’t like staying in hospitals if this type of care is unnecessary, and even if they do, there are downsides to hospital stays, such as nosocomial infections. On the other hand, in many cases, patients will cancel a follow-up appointment because they do not think it is necessary. A telemedicine call may be a great alternative for patients who just don't have the time to take another day in order to get to a physical appointment, but should still follow up with their physician. Patients value the ability to utilize telemedicine to seek a medical consultation at work or anywhere else instead of having to leave work early to go to a doctor.
In some areas, telemedicine is being used to provide medical assistance at schools as well, such as informing the school nurse if a child needs to be transferred to a hospital or not. The ease of access will also mean that patients can talk to their doctors frequently. This will result in patients being able to express their concerns and ask any questions that occur to them straightaway rather than having to visit the doctor’s office. In fact, it's not uncommon for patients to leave a doctor’s office on more than one occasion with a particular question in mind only to end up forgetting to ask the doctor about it. This becomes less of an issue with constant access to doctors through telemedicine. Of course, more communication will result in a better doctor-patient relationship, which in turn will result in better outcomes for the patient and more faith in the doctor.
Telemedicine can also result in less unnecessary healthcare spending. It is estimated that about 200 billion dollars are spent each year in the United States on healthcare that may be unnecessary. Telemedicine can save that money which is spent on issues such as noncompliance by patients and unnecessary ER visits.
Nothing is without issues, so, having discussed all the great benefits of telemedicine, let’s talk about some of its cons. First of all, the process requires training and proper equipment. This will depend on the way you’re utilizing telemedicine and the service provider you’re using. For instance, regular chats and calls in order to ask a doctor a question will definitely require less equipment than that needed to follow up a patient at home after surgery. This would require vital data monitoring and an alarm system to alert the hospital in case urgent intervention is needed. Some service providers only require a webcam and very little training. Another issue that depends on the service providers is which doctor you’re connected with. If the service you’re a part of keeps connecting you to your doctor, that’s great, because no one will know your case better. On the other hand, it’ll be an issue if you’re connected to someone different each time; this will result in reduced care continuity, as you will have to explain your case to each doctor from the start.
Other issues include reduced face-to-face meetings with doctors. Visiting the doctor’s office is still important because that’s the only way the doctor can examine a patient. How is a doctor going to correctly diagnose without performing a physical examination? Telemedicine is perfect for following up and making sure everything is okay, but can’t replace the entire medical process. Let’s not forget that communicating through technology can be impersonal, too.
Telemedicine, if used correctly, is full of great features and benefits for all. It’s basically a win-win-win situation for doctors, patients, and the healthcare system. Certain specialties can benefit most from telemedicine. These specialties include dermatology and radiology, as they rely mainly on observation and inspection rather than on examination. Another specialty that takes advantage is psychiatry, as patients can easily access their physicians at any time, which could be life-saving. Psychiatry barely requires any physical examination, too. Radiology is one of the first specialties to use telemedicine, as previously mentioned, and one of its main benefactors. Most diagnostic radiology can be done remotely and, instead of having to wait for a radiologist to arrive at the hospital, for instance, the file can be sent to him/her so they can comment on it from home.
A method for doctors to gain more experience, money, and build their reputation, telemedicine is definitely beneficial for physicians, as it allows them to accomplish a lot in little time. It’s also great for patients, saving them time, money, helping them build better relationships with their doctors, and allowing them to express their concerns. Telemedicine certainly has a variety of uses, and with time and as technology advances, these uses will only increase in number.