Angie's LIST Guide to
Telemedicine

Telemedicine uses telecommunication and information technology to conduct clinical practices and treat and monitor patients from a distance, whether by phone, satellite or internet videoconference.
 

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Many health care facilities and services are available to offer the type of care and service required by each patient. From ambulance services to hospitals to immediate care and more, there are various services to accommodate each need.
Many health care facilities and services are available to offer the type of care and service required by each patient. From ambulance services to hospitals to immediate care and more, there are various services to accommodate each need.
 
 

What is telemedicine?

During the 1900s, and in one of the earliest versions of this practice, Australians in remote areas used two-way radios powered by a bicycle-pedal dynamo to communicate with physicians in the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. Similarly, Africans would send smoke signals to warn people to stay away if a serious illness or outbreak occurred. In the modern United States, the Internet, videos, phones, cameras and remote monitoring systems are just some of the tools used within the field telehealth.

Telehealth encompasses both clinical and nonclinical services and uses various communication devices such as telephones, email systems and remote patient monitoring devices to consult, diagnose and supervise patients remotely. According to a study conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, 89 percent of healthcare decision-makers are predicting that telemedicine will reshape treatment.

Telehealth services work by a matter of three components: a distant or hub site, an originating site and the store-and-forward.

The hub site is the location of the physician or the licensed healthcare provider during the time of the telehealth service. The originating site, on the other hand, is the location of the patient receiving service remotely. Physicians then conduct consultations from the hub site by transferring data with a camera and forwarding them to the originating site. Medical data such as images and biosignals are sent to the physician through the store-and-forward method, which simply means the data is transferred electronically to the doctor's location, where it can be assessed offline at a later time.

Dermatology, radiology and pathology are the medical practices best-suited for teleservices because they don't require the presence of both parties at the same time.

Relevant specialties for telehealth

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States is expected to have a shortfall of 150,000 physicians within the next 10 years. With the use of telehealth services, however, physicians and healthcare providers can make themselves available to a larger group of people, particularly within medical specialties such as cardiology, psychiatry and nursing.

In the field of telecardiology, ECG or electrocardiograph signals for monitoring the heart can be transmitted by telephone and wireless signals. Willem Einthoven discovered a method to do this as early as 1906, when he discovered a way to transmit data from the hospital to his laboratory via telephone lines. Today, the basis of his ECG data transfer method is a common practice in telecardiology.

Telepsychiatry utilizes videoconferencing to serve patients in underserved areas. Psychiatrists can diagnose, consult and conduct follow-up meetings via teleconferencing. As of 2011, the United States has been utilizing telepsychiatry services to assist Native Americans and military veterans at the Center for Native American Telehealth and Teleeducation (CNATT), and the Telemental Health Centers for Native Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Walter Reed Army Medical Center offered similar services until consolidated in 2011.

Telenursing assists in serving the growing elderly and chronically ill population. It also solves the nurse shortage problem because nurses can assist more patients remotely and with less cost by means of telenursing. Service is provided by both face-to-face and long distance communication between the healthcare providers and by a number of telehealth services, including telemonitoring, teleconsulting and telediagnosis.

Benefits of telemedicine

The field is considered a cost-effective alternative to traditional face-to-face doctor-patient visits. Some states even opt to cover it under Medicare.

Other benefits of telehealth include telemonitoring, a practice that lessens patient travel time and allows patient monitoring even when the patient is not in the same location as the doctor. In such cases, the patient has monitoring devices that are transmitted via the telephone to the healthcare provider.

Telemedical processes greatly benefit those that live in remote areas. In such cases, patients can receive a diagnosis without having to wait an inordinate amount of time or travel great distances.

Telehealth services also can be used as a teaching tool. Experienced medical staff can observe and instruct others from afar. Telehealth services have been shown to increase the efficiency of managing patients and reduce patient hospital stays, travel time and healthcare costs.

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