Can’t find the time to pencil in a doctor’s appointment? A few decades ago that may have been an issue, and you may have suffered in silence. But today, it’s much easier to find the time to talk to a doctor. Healthcare, thanks to technology, is now much more accessible than ever before, thanks to new innovations and approaches that enable people to take care of certain medical needs from afar.
Telemedicine is an exciting new (or, specifically, somewhat new) trend in the world of healthcare that promise to make medical services a lot more accessible to people. But what is it, exactly, and precisely how will it help? This article takes a closer look at telemedicine’s definition, applications, and benefits, as well as a quick rundown of the best telemedicine software to consider.
Telemedicine: A Definition
“Telemedicine” was coined back in the 1970s and referred to as the act of “healing from a distance” through the use of information and communication technology.
But in a young and fast-developing field, there are many ways to describe the practice – one study has even found 104 peer-reviewed telemedicine definitions.
What is Telemedicine?
The World Health Organization describes telemedicine as:
The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.
Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, is a very broad sector encompassing many types of virtual care, from teletherapy to mobile therapy, general health, and more. Many organizations, such as the American Telemedicine Association, don’t distinguish between the two terms, using them interchangeably.
Telemedicine vs. Telehealth
Others, however, believe they are two distinct sectors of the healthcare industry, using telehealth to refer to a more broad array of tech-based healthcare services, and telemedicine to describe something more specific – usually remote patient-doctor communication.
In practical terms, the difference between a telehealth and telemedicine app might look something like this:
So, the differences between telemedicine and telehealth are reflected in the differences of medicine and health; many people can be healthcare providers and offer healthcare services, but some are exclusive to licensed physicians, such as prescribing medication.
A telemedicine platform, for instance, might allow users to get a prescription for some illnesses or conditions, while telehealth platforms and services such as mental health apps might lack this kind of service.
In this article, we’ll use the two terms to refer to different sectors of the healthcare industry, assuming healthcare has broader applications, such as the public health sector tasked with educating the public.
What is Telemedicine Used For?
Telemedicine’s applications go far beyond underserved demographics and regions in the US. Developing nations with notoriously limited access to a doctor or basic medical care can now at least get some of their medical needs addressed.
But even in the States, telemedicine can make healthcare services – especially mental healthcare services – more practical, and easier to access.
Though it won’t suit every potential patient condition, efficacy studies show that some medical needs can very successfully be managed through telemedicine tech.
Good examples include telehealth treatments for:
- Rehabilitation from physical disabilities
- Cardiology treatments
- and a range of other behavioral health applications.
What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine?
Telemedicine wouldn’t be considered a valid healthcare sector if it did not bring valuable perks to the table. But is it effective? From the definition alone, it’s quite clear what these potential benefits could be:
- Expanding Access to Patient Care
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of telemedicine is that it offers remote services. As such, people who live in underserved areas or regions with poor access to quality medical care can finally have a convenient way to address this shortage.
- Reducing Healthcare Costs
Telemedicine can potentially reduce the unnecessary spending in cost of healthcare provision. For instance, emergency room visits in the US often involve non-emergency conditions, such as sprains, strains, or superficial injuries.
Telemedicine could potentially lower the frequency of these visits if the person can contact a specialist to review their problem right at home with video therapy or a mobile app, thus cutting down the overall spending of ER departments.
- Better Access to Niche Medical Specialists
Particularly for those living in rural or remote areas, it can be difficult to get the opinion of the medical expert who specializes in the particular condition the patient is struggling with. But with the adoption of telemedicine technologies, the patient’s file can be easily sent to the expert, and the doctor can consult the patient regardless of their location.
What Are the Limitations?
Of course, telemedicine is not a perfect solution to all of healthcare’s problems. No matter how advanced the technology is, telemedicine as a whole comes with several limitations both doctors and patients should be aware of:
- Can Encourage Patients to Migrate from Doctor to Doctor
Telemedicine can allow patients to get a second opinion easily, but it’s important to understand that it can also allow them to contact different doctors until the diagnosis or treatment is convenient for them.
This may seem like a far-fetched thing to do, but you should know the root of this issue comes from patient satisfaction.
For instance, one study looking at patient satisfaction in telemedicine consultation for children with respiratory issues found that parents were more likely to be satisfied when they got an antibiotics prescription. Parents who got the prescription would rate the clinic or doctor with 5 stars, which is an issue a lot of telemedicine providers need to be wary of.
Many telemedicine practices have rating systems in place. Of course, a patient will always feel more comfortable discussing with the doctor who has the highest rating, but if the said rating is offered by patients based on whether they liked the treatment offered, then this can be quite problematic.
- Telemedicine Is Not Appropriate for All Health Issues
Though it can be effective in providing medical care for minor health issues, telemedicine still cannot replace the value of an in-person doctor visit when immediate treatment is urgent or a condition is particularly severe.
Other times, while a doctor can ask the patient questions over a video conferencing program, they will base their medical opinion on the answers of the patient, who may not be able to fully explain what they are observing in their own body.
Patients can misinterpret signs or exaggerate certain conditions without even realizing it. This can lead to inaccurate diagnosis and, if medication is also prescribed, the wrong drug can also potentially make the patient’s health worsens.
What Software Should You Use?
The telemedicine software that currently exists on the market today is as diverse as the telehealth industry itself.
Based on your requirements, it’s possible to choose from software that’s designed to:
- Help doctors get in touch with patients remotely
- Patient management software with integrated telemedicine software or platforms that allow regular people to log on and get connected to a doctor, regardless of never having met them before
- Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) that facilitate smoother and more integrated patient data storage
- And plenty of other examples.
Telemedicine software is designed to be easy to use, both for doctors and patients that require help. You’re essentially free to use the kind of app or software that best suits your needs. But though the types of telemedicine systems can be diverse, it’s important to consider one key factor when deciding which one to adopt: whether they are HIPAA compliant.
Telemedicine software is designed to be easy to use, both for doctors and patients that require help.
HIPAA-compliant telemedicine systems often offer more protection of the patient’s electronic health records. Privacy is a general concern in the world of healthcare, and telemedicine can jeopardize that privacy by digitizing the patient file. And without proper protection, these files are at risk of being disclosed.
5 Best Telemedicine Platforms
Here are some HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software to look into:
|ContinuousCare offers an extensive platform that includes a wide array of services, such as patient management and all that entails, as well as telemedicine options for doctors to contact their patients remotely and engage with them out of office.|
Its features include:
|Price||INR 330+ monthly|
|Good For||Scheduling, Practice Management, Video Therapy|
|MediTab was founded back in 1998 as a HIPAA-compliant platform that offers practices everything they need for practice and patient management. Its addition of telemedicine software makes it one of the best solutions for doctors to extend their reach and get in touch with more patients.|
Its features include:
|Price||Available on request|
|Good For||Practice Management, Client Interactions, Video Therapy|
|AmWell is one of the best HIPAA-compliant telemedicine services out there, providing 24/7 medical support for urgent care. Unlike the other two previous platforms, AmWell was designed for regular people to get quick access to doctors.|
Doctors can join AmWell and potentially earn extra income. The platform does not impose a schedule, so doctors are free to log on based on their own availability, and connect with patients remotely to offer their services.
|Price||Available on request|
|Good For||Telepsychiatry, Marketing, Video Therapy|
|OnCall Health is a HIPAA and PIPEDA compliant telemedicine platform. It is cloud-based and can be used on any computer, browser, and using any operating system. Medical providers also benefit from 24/7 technical support, which can come in quite handy at times.|
Its features include:
|Price||Available on Request|
|Good For||Video Therapy, Patient Engagement, Practice Management|
|Mend is another cloud-based communication solution that allows doctors to connect with their patients and share files, photos, as well as communicate remotely.|
The platform is HIPAA-compliant and offers increased security to make sure all the data uploaded is secure and cannot get accessed by unauthorized individuals. Users can share information using a simple drag and drop interface that will automatically upload the files. Patients are invited to chat using email links, so the patient does not need to remember any credentials.
|Good For||Patient Communication, Video Therapy, File Sharing|
Though it’s certainly an exciting new sector, the adoption of telemedicine has been relatively slow. Even if there are many platforms or apps that offer telemedicine services, either from A to Z or as an integrated component in a wider patient management program, doctors aren’t yet jumping at the chance to use telemedicine just yet.
It may be because we still do not know how it can impact the entire healthcare sector. Will it be able to bring people closer to medical services, and get them quality treatment fast? Or will it make people less likely to visit a doctor in real-life, creating the potential dangers of some illnesses not being properly recognized and treated?
There are many questions surrounding telemedicine, that’s for sure. Still, though we don’t really know what the future of telemedicine will look like, one can be sure the future of healthcare will likely include it. Whether more refined technology will ever bring the day telemedicine replaces traditional healthcare, that remains to be seen.
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