The quickest definition of telemedicine comes from its etymological meaning, or where the word itself comes from. For this, we have to refer to the Greek language. The prefix “tele” comes from the Greek word for “distance.”
Therefore, telemedicine is medicine from a distance. More precisely, it’s healthcare that you receive from a distance. This definition opens up a wide range of situations that could be considered part of telemedicine.
It could include surgery where a doctor is controlling a robot from a different part of the world. In addition, it could be a web conference between professionals to discuss a case.
Regarding these examples, surgical robot operation has been possible since 2001. In that year, a doctor in New York performed a cholecystectomy – the removal of the gallbladder on a French patient through a device.
Previously, communication between professionals at a distance was common. In fact, since the mid-1990s, the world’s large clinics and large hospitals had real-time connections to analyze complex patients.
With the emergence of the internet, and being able to access the internet so easily (on cell phones, on TV, in vehicles, etc.), the concept of ehealth was added. Unlike telemedicine, ehealth implies the use of the internet as a means for medicine.
Some Applications of Telemedicine
Among the many different uses of telemedicine, here are the most relevant:
Electronic medical record – Unlike the classic and traditional paper medical records, there’s a lot of potential for computer patient records.
With telemedicine, you can store medical records in electronic devices and internet clouds that you can access from anywhere. In fact, the patient can also open them with a password from home. This technology makes it easier to stay up-to-date.
Remote diagnosis – Thanks to telemedicine, it’s possible for patients and doctors in different places to talk. It’s also easier for professionals to consult with each other. For geographic regions that are hard to get to, it’s a way to improve equality in access to healthcare.
Monitoring – Controlling vitals, like blood pressure or oxygen saturation, don’t necessarily require a person to physically do it.
With telemedicine, it’s possible to carry out these measurements from a distance. Therefore, they’re saving resources and freeing up time for other professionals, like nurses. That way, they can do higher priority tasks.
Long-distance education – With telemedicine, it’s also possible to train human resources in health. With an internet connection, you can attend classes, courses and even complete postgraduate courses from anywhere on the globe.
Now, we’re going to broadly explain the advantages of telemedicine. Then, we’ll analyze some problems.
- Reducing inequalities: Remote connections can bring health care to geographically isolated people, for example.
- Increased speed: By being able to consult specialists in other parts of the planet in minutes, you can get a diagnosis much faster.
- Greater participation: Telemedicine allows for different views to chime in on a clinical process. Also, you can do it in real time. Therefore, it helps people get treatment.
- Statistics: Storing information in electronic medical records, keeping vaccination records on computers, recording side effects in internet clouds, increase the possibility of generating statistics almost in real time to know what’s happening with health. These statistics are the basis for decision-making in public health matters.
Problems with telemedicine
Now, let’s see some of the current difficulties with telemedicine:
- Privacy: A big topic of conversation in this area is confidentiality. It’s important for medical records to be secure, and that doctor-patient confidentiality is protected and respected.
- Ethics of distance care: Although it’s carried out with a teleconference, medical care is still an act linked to the ethics of professionals. In fact, even the World Medical Association has a statement on ethics in telemedicine.
- Bad infrastructure: Although the countries that would benefit the most are underdeveloped ones, it’s also true that they don’t have sufficient network infrastructure and connections to support telemedicine.
- Cultural changes: Both professionals and patients are subjected to a change. This change is in beliefs and in common health care practices when faced with telemedicine. In fact, this can be a long and suspicious process.
In short, although there are some drawbacks, telemedicine offers very important advantages in terms of diagnosis, disease information and education. It will probably continue to evolve hand in hand with technology.