It is clear to me that Telemedicine will play a major role in the development of medicine in the coming years and decades. But what is it? And how can it revolutionise medical care? Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication technologies to provide medical information and services. It can be as simple as using a phone, app or laptop. The best thing about this field is the speed and the low cost – Telemedicine offers a method of seeking medical opinion quickly and cheaply, thus providing a solution to an increasing problem in the delivery of healthcare.
This increased use of Telemedicine is due in part to of the boom in technological advances in the last few decades. Healthcare costs and patients’ expectations have also increased, so there is undoubtedly a need to find alternative modes for healthcare.
When I first came across the concept of Telemedicine I was slightly sceptical, could it really make that much of a difference? But after extensive studies and university courses in this field, I quickly came to realise that this was definitely the future of Medicine.
Despite my enthusiasm I recognise that face-to-face contact in Medicine is the gold standard. But it can’t be denied that constraints on time and resources are making face-to-face consultations increasingly expensive and difficult to access – Telemedicine has the potential to produce major efficiencies in diagnostic processes, and increase accessibility for all.
Another opposing argument is that Telemedicine represents a threat to the doctor/patient relationship and some even go as far as to say that it is an intrinsically unsafe way of practicing Medicine. But historically people are always wary of new ideas. Like many cutting-edge developments in healthcare, Telemedicine seems to have a polarising effect on the medical profession. And I would urge everyone to thoroughly research the field and weigh up the positives and potential negatives before falling hard on either side.
The goal is to marry Medicine with technology, capitalising on the advances of Telemedicine and producing a robust system that delivers an acceptable service at an appropriate price. Perhaps the real challenge is to ensure that healthcare professionals lead and influence the development of the field, rather than being driven by parties with their own interests – such as equipment manufacturers and tech companies.
It’s important to note that Telemedicine is already well known in our daily practice, for example in teleradiography, telepathology and teleconsultation – particularly for Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists. Yes, I believe that face-to-face consultation will always be the goal standard, but Telemedicine has a place where the gold standard is not achievable. For example emergencies in remote or hostile environments, from the Arctic to the middle of the jungle, ships out at sea or aeroplanes, can be effectively dealt with through Telemedicine. Many people don’t have the luxury of accessing a consultation room – and Medicine needs to be aware of this, and adapt to it.
Even in an urban environment Telemedicine can play a crucial role; speeding up referral processes, reducing unnecessary referrals and improving the consistency and quality of healthcare, especially in chronic disease management.
I expect to see Telemedicine making its mark in the next few years in the form of new medical developments. With technological advances continuing at the current rate, who’s to say where the limitations of this ground-breaking field end?