Telemedicine is remote medicine. To the familiar word "medicine," we add the Greek "tele," which translates as "away" or "far away."
At first glance, telemedicine can make medical care more accessible: patients with limited mobility will no longer face many difficulties in visiting a doctor, and residents of rural areas will easily be able to consult with the best specialists via video link. Of course, these benefits are undeniable, but they are not easy to implement in practice.
Telecare in practice
In 2010, WHO recorded 104 definitions for the term "telemedicine." This term can imply quite different things, and therefore researchers were not able to formulate a common and precise definition. In most cases, however, telemedicine is defined as online medical consultations.
We have looked at some of the most dramatic examples of telemedicine in practice:
- Some USA military veterans with type 1 diabetes could not access specialized medical care due to their age and other health problems. Residents of rural Alabama and Georgia faced similar problems. Consequently, a telemedicine program has been launched for these populations for this very reason. Relatively recently, the U.S. Department of Health reviewed patients' medical records who received telemedicine. They found that thanks to telemedicine, patients for six months on average could reduce hemoglobin and blood glucose levels from 8.7% to 8.1%!
- Residents in remote rural Iowa have struggled to get emergency medical care quickly, but telemedicine has dramatically improved the situation. A University of Iowa study found that telemedicine resources allowed an average patient to get seen 14.7 minutes faster than patients seen by local physicians. For patients in need of emergency care, those minutes can be critical.
- Telemedicine has also made it possible to give extra care to patients. That is especially vital when health services have been under tremendous strain because of Covid19. For example, patients could receive counseling online or use mobile applications to track changes in their condition. In addition, remote consultations have enabled social isolation and thereby reduced the speed with which the virus can spread.
Telemedicine can make treatment more rapid and timely and save more than one life. So, why then is telemedicine not in widespread use?
Obstacles to the widespread introduction of telemedicine
Telemedicine has the potential to help millions of people around the world, but providing medical care is itself fraught with risk for the patient, let alone treating them remotely. For this reason, there is currently no unified approach to the legal regulation of telemedicine.
In the USA, for example, approaches to legislative regulation of telemedicine may vary significantly from state to state. Moreover, suppose a patient in one region seeks consultation with a physician in another region. In that case, it makes the situation even more confusing: can a physician in another state be considered legitimate when do not have a license in the state in which the patient resides? The problem is similar in the European Union. Licenses are now getting developed to enable doctors to provide medical care to patients from all European regions. Nevertheless, appointments from a doctor in another state or country are often advisory: only the doctor in charge of the place of residence makes the final decision about the patient's treatment. But how useful is a consultation that cannot influence the patient's treatment?
Patients may encounter problems even if they consult a local doctor by video link. In Russia, for example, the largest number of telemedicine-related lawsuits involve non-compliance with passenger and luggage safety requirements. The fact is that drivers have to undergo a medical examination before and after the trip. Still, sometimes the driver has to undergo the examination by a telemedicine company, i.e., remotely, to save time and money. However, the supervisory authorities have the right to invalidate this examination and impose a fine. With varying success, such fines can be challenged in court, arguing that telemedicine is a valid alternative to conventional medicine.
Although telemedicine is considered a more accessible form of healthcare delivery, many people often cannot rely on it. In India, for example, more than 740 million people do not have access to the Internet and hence cannot make use of online counseling even in emergencies.
However, not only patients but also doctors can face technical difficulties. In some cases, it is simply not possible to conduct a full-fledged examination via video link. However, doctors are now increasingly incorporating data from fitness trackers and sleep trackers, which allows them to gather more information about the patient. In addition, there should be other devices that will enable doctors to carry out examinations entirely remotely in the future.
Telemedicine can make treatment much more effective and accessible to people. Although there are still problems with the legal regulation of telemedicine and its widespread adoption in our everyday lives, the telemedicine market is growing steadily. Indeed, Allied Market Research predicts that the telemedicine market will reach $431,823.81 million by 2030. I wonder what will happen to it next?
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