You may not have heard of the term “telemedicine” before, but there’s a chance you might already be actively involved in it. Essentially, telemedicine describes the use of telecommunication and digital technology to provide clinical health care from a distance, i.e. not a regular face-to-face clinical visit that people are traditionally used to when they go and see a doctor. It started as a fringe service in the late 1960s and was first introduced in Massachusetts General Hospital by Kenneth Bird, originally to solve the patient backlog of employees and travelers at Logan International Airport, which was located three congested miles away from MGH. This primitive version of telemedicine incorporated a two-way audio-visual microwave circuit and treated over 1,000 patients.
These days, telemedicine is an entirely different ballgame. The advent of digital technology has spurred the movement on over the last ten years, and as it stands in 2018, we are on the cusp of telemedicine becoming a major factor in the vast and crowded arena of health care. From audio-visual microwaves, the format of communication switched to telephones, the first system of which was operational in 1989, and then finally digital communications, which include smartphones, tablets, laptops, and any other device that utilizes digital technology.
For most people, the word “telemedicine” might sound intimidating or foreign; the question soon becomes “How does it affect me?” In truth, the question you should be asking yourself is “How does it benefit me?”, as telemedicine comes complete with a whole range of advantages for patients and doctors alike. The main benefit is unchanged from the initial need to introduce the concept into the health care system: remote treatments. This doesn’t mean a literal treatment by remote control (though we might get there someday) – it means giving medical professionals the means to treat patients who are far away from them. These include patients who live in rural areas, where a trip to the doctor’s office is a mammoth operation, or those who are physically or mentally incapacitated, and because of the status of their condition, can’t leave the house.
This is of great benefit to both doctors and the patients that they treat. Patients can get seen to without wasting their entire day, while doctors can consult with more patients during the day than they normally would if they were seeing them in person. Another benefit of telemedicine is a wider access to specialists; previously, people who lived in remote areas were referred to whichever specialist happened to be close to them, whether they had a good reputation or not. Telemedicine gives patents the freedom to select a specialist who suits them best, whether they live in the countryside or the city. It puts more power in the hands of the patients, who often communally complain of being disenfranchised with the U.S. health care system.
Another advantage of telemedicine is the ability to avail of certain medications or services online. If you’re handicapped and can’t physically leave the house without specific provisions, then you can avail of benefits like a handicap parking permit from Dr. Handicap from the comfort of your own home. This removes the catch-22 situation of having to drive somewhere to pick up the permit in the first place. Another increasing trend in the health care system is the use of medical marijuana to treat all manner of diseases and conditions. If you live in one of the 29 states that has legalized medical marijuana, then through a site like MMJ Recs, you can easily be prescribed a medical marijuana identification card, which will legally allow you to avail of the medicine at local dispensaries.
Telemedicine also allows doctors to keep track of patients remotely and have the results of certain tests uploaded to them digitally. This removes the need for patients to stay in hospitals overnight for certain exams, freeing up hospital space for more intensive patients, and also allows doctors to get far more accurate results than they might if they were simply consulting with the patient for fifteen minutes. But despite all these advantages, the single biggest benefit of telemedicine for those in the modern age is the fact that it is immediate. Every single service or industry in our world is moving towards an on-demand system; we’ve seen Netflix practically extinguish traditional television format, and WhatsApp and other social messengers lay waste to old school telephone calls.
Telemedicine is aiming to do the same thing with traditional health care methods. Doing so will take more time and a more revolutionized approach than other industries, as the intricacies of health care are more nuanced. But the end result will be a better service and treatment for everyone involved, on both sides of the line. Taxpayers’ and patients’ money will be saved and better spent, while the quality of treatment will continue to increase as telemedicine becomes more prevalent. All in all, telemedicine will affect you, the potential patient, positively across the whole health care spectrum; it’s time to embrace the future!