Imagine a world without doctor’s offices.
Instead, you simply press a button whenever you get sick. A doctor appears on your phone or tablet, and you use a device – at home – to take tests.
If you need medication, it gets delivered by drone. If you need a simple operation, the drone can handle that, too. You only need to see other humans in person when you need a serious operation.
This means no waiting rooms. Co-pays in the single digits. Faster response times. More personalized care and more individual control over your health.
That’s the world we’re headed towards – and it’s all thanks to telemedicine (aka “telehealth”).
This new field of medical care has existed since 1925, at least in theory. However, recent technological advancements have made it a reality… and the COVID-19 outbreak has even made it a necessity in many situations.
So, let’s dive into this exciting new aspect of medicine, shall we?
First off, what is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a broad field that includes all medical care given at a distance. This includes video calls, at-home medical devices, remote diagnosis, internet-based record-keeping and more.
In the beginning, telemedicine consisted primarily of phone calls from doctors, as the technology was limited.
But these days, telemedicine is a rapidly growing industry. Advances in communication technology allow doctors to be more “present” than ever, while new devices are being developed that help patients take their medical care into their own hands.
When was Telemedicine invented?
The first telemedicine ideas took shape in 1925 – a surprisingly long time ago! Hugo Gernsback, a radio and television pioneer, came up with the idea of a “teledactyl”. This theoretical device would use a radio and a television screen to allow doctors to meet with patients from afar.
While the teledactyl never quite made it into existence, the concept of telemedicine survived. In the 1960s, investments from the U.S. Government (including the Public Health Department, NASA, Department of Defense, and the Health and Human Sciences Department) resulted in many innovations in telemedicine.
In the beginning, telemedicine was intended to help doctors reach patients in remote areas. But now, in the information age, it’s become a convenient way for all doctors to reduce patient overload and increase efficiency. It’s much easier for patients, too – and cheaper!
What are some examples of Telemedicine?
There are many examples, with new ones popping up all the time.
Some interesting examples include:
- Live video conferencing: This is the most common example. A doctor will see you via a video call. Naturally, this is restricted to relatively simple situations, as you can’t perform physical tests via video. However, this is excellent for diagnosing issues that don’t require in-person tests – and especially therapy or mental health services.
- Remote patient monitoring (RPM): This involves collecting personal health data from a patient and transferring it electronically to a nurse, caregiver, or physician in a different location for monitoring purposes. Senior living homes make extensive use of RPM to prevent falls and monitor for essential health signals.
- Asynchronous video: This is common in rural areas where doctors are limited. The patient can record a video, either at home or at an office, and send it to the doctor. The doctor then reviews the video and sends a response.
- At-home medical devices: These days, many devices are being created to help patients save money and get faster, higher-quality care.
One example of these at-home devices is EyeQue, a device that allows you to take eye exams from home (allowing you to update your prescription without having to visit the optometrist).
Another example is FitTrack, a smart scale that tracks important information about your body, which you can send to your doctor or physical therapist. There are more and more of these amazing devices being created every day!
Who benefits from Telemedicine?
Telemedicine has already grown rapidly in recent years – in fact, millions of Americans already take advantage of telemedicine. If you’ve ever called in a prescription refill, then you’ve technically used it too!
However, in these times, telemedicine has become especially useful. With social distancing measures in place throughout the world, doctors are trying to limit in-person visits as much as possible… but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your health!
Telemedicine provides the perfect solution, allowing medical professionals to stay “close” to their patients even from long distances.
The demand for Telemedicine will continue to grow
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, officials at the Cleveland Clinic (which has offices in Ohio and Florida) expect more than 60,000 telemedicine visits in March 2020. Before then, they only averaged about 3,400 per month.
But since patients only pay a tiny fraction of what they would normally pay for an in-person visit, and it’s much more convenient, we expect telemedicine to continue growing even after the current situation subsides. The recent spike in interest will introduce thousands of people to telemedicine, and few will want to go back to the “old way” once they do.
Of course, we should also remember that Artificial Intelligence (and machine learning) are also growing quickly… and there’s a lot of crossover between them. Imagine a future in which your doctor is a computer-generated program, and your surgeon and pharmacist are robots!
It will take some time before we get there, but that’s the direction we’re headed. Telemedicine may sound a bit strange now, but it could bring greater access to affordable, high-quality medical care for everyone around the world. And that’s an idea we can get behind!