It pains me to think that in this day and age much of the developing world still does not have access to quality healthcare. Not only are costs skyrocketing, but there is also a worrying shortage of physicians – so what is the answer? How can we ensure that everyone on the planet is able to take advantage of modern medical advancements? For me, the answer has to be Telemedicine- the use of telecommunication technologies in order to provide clinical healthcare at a distance. Information Communication Technologies including smartphones, computers, and video calling, can improve access, lower costs and reach people in the most remote, rural areas to deliver high quality medical care.
But Telemedicine is not without its limitations. Medicine has a gold standard, which includes taking a clinical history, physical examination, diagnosis and treatment; it has been this way for thousands of years. There are also a lot of non-verbal cues that are vital when assessing and treating a patient and, to be honest, there is nothing quite like being in the room with a patient and examining them. But when patients have no other option, Telemedicine is a fantastic tool to boost accessibility – regardless of the fact that it may not meet the historical ‘gold standard’ of medical practice. There are certain areas where Telemedicine has made incredible advancements, including the fields of dermatology, cardiology and radiology, and the scope of its reach will only continue to expand.
It’s not entirely a new concept. Telemedicine has been around since the 1960s and since the advancement of the Internet and the growing sophistication of smartphones; Telemedicine has really come into its own. But there has been some resistance from the medical community, and rightly so, because some stakeholders are using Telemedicine to cut costs to the extreme, at the expense of delivering what most physicians would qualify as quality healthcare.
When used in the right way, Telemedicine could change the face of modern medicine and make a crucial difference in the developing world. But we need to be careful. It’s vital to thoroughly assess the pros and cons with each step we take because, although it may seem like a panacea, if used in a mercenary fashion, Telemedicine could take us back many generations in the field of medicine.