Thanks to the telecommunication and information technologies that have been at the forefront of 20th century technological advancement, telemedicine has become an incredibly effective solution to distance barriers, providing people in isolated, rural areas with access to medical services. Communications between patients and medical staff now take place with expedience and high fidelity, and this leads to faster diagnosis and resolution for patients. More recently, with the rapid technological advancement and ubiquity of smartphones (it is estimated that there are around 2.1 billion smartphone users in the world), telemedicine has managed to advance at even more rapid rates. Outlined below are some of the most mind-boggling ways smartphones have facilitated the progress of telemedicine.
There is a vast array of health apps currently available for smartphones – many of which are free. Anyone with a smartphone can use apps to monitor sleep patterns, track their weight, use two-way video calls to communicate with medical staff, get medication reminders, and even connect with online support groups.
Some of these telemedicine apps can track and report a patient’s health information to their healthcare provider, so that detailed analysis and diagnosis can be drawn. As smartphones are always at hand, data collected this way tends to be far more accurate than both patients making estimations and medical practitioners tracking for short periods.
Remote monitoring, or self-monitoring, allows medical professionals to monitor a patient remotely using a plethora of technological devices, including smartphones. This is applicable in managing chronic diseases or conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes. Remote monitoring often provides similar health outcomes to more conventional, in-person patient encounters, supplies greater satisfaction to patients, takes less time, and tends to be far more cost-effective for both the patient and the medical practitioner.
Medical Imaging – Stroke Patients
In 2012, medical images taken on smartphones to evaluate stroke patients in remote locations through telemedicine were proven to be effective. This allows patients to access expert help in a timely fashion when they need it most. If required, patients can be prescribed medications within a short timeframe to proactively minimize serious injury to the brain.
Medical images sent via smartphones have also led to significant cost reductions by making ground or air ambulance transfer of the patient to another medical center unnecessary.
Telemedicine for wound management is conveniently done using a smartphone’s high-quality video camera in conjunction with electronic medical records (to exchange medical information). After receiving wound images, a plan of care is developed that best ensures the patient’s full and speedy recovery. Subsequently, products that will benefit recovery are ordered and delivered. This is all done from the convenience of the patient’s home.
Wound management is particularly interesting because it provides a level of care that often cannot be done in person. Follow-ups on post-surgical visits are far more frequent and continued care for chronic wounds are much more extensive. Furthermore, it means less pain for patients, as they don’t have to travel long distances for care.
Ophthalmology is the branch of science concerned with the study and treatment of diseases and disorders of the human eye. Tele-ophthalmology attempts to digitalize as much of the ophthalmological care as possible and effective. Electronic ophthalmologic records of the patients often include the capturing of images by smartphones. Smartphone cameras are now advanced enough to be able to capture both anterior and posterior segments of the eye to be evaluated by ophthalmologists.
Only if patients require further evaluations will they be referred to experts in the relevant field. Tele-ophthalmology, in conjunction with smartphones, is able to treat diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and retinopathy of prematurity. These are the most common causes of blindness, but smartphones are helping ophthalmologists deal more effectively with these diseases on a mass scale, helping many isolated people get the help they need before it’s too late.
A large number of studies have shown that clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction levels of tele-ophthalmology are similar to the conventional eye care system, while also providing cost-effectiveness.
The tele-dentistry industry has shown the ability to detect occlusal caries (decay on contacting surfaces of teeth) from photographs taken by smartphone cameras with comparable diagnostic results when compared to traditional screening. As tooth decay is linked to many dangerous diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and even dementia, this is an important development for many patients.
With the rapid advancement of smartphone technology, telemedicine has become an incredibly exciting space to watch, and one that provides incredible benefit to the many people who would be very poorly served in its absence. But there is clearly lots more work to be done to bridge the gap between medicine and telemedicine, and the power of smartphones will have a large part to play in bridging that gap.