4 Reasons Why Telemedicine May Be Here to Stay

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why Telemedicine May Be Here to Stay

The concept of telemedicine is still in its infancy, but has some appeal to doctors and patients, especially in rural U.S. communities where doctors have great distances to cover for short in-person patient visits.

One of our favorite medical phrases is “the doctor will see you now,” which is always nice to hear after a long time in the waiting room. In the near future, we may hear this in a different context – when the physician examines you through his or her computer.

Medical technology watchers know the ‘telemedicine’ concept isn’t as far-fetched as it would have sounded a decade ago: patients can now connect with a doctor from home or a clinic using a web cam, and the provider can offer a basic diagnosis, a referral or a prescription. The concept is still in its infancy, but has some appeal to doctors and patients, especially in rural U.S. communities where doctors have great distances to cover for short in-person patient visits.

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A Cisco study from last spring showed that a majority of 1,547 customers from 10 countries are willing to embrace this direction in health care. As many as 74 percent said they would be comfortable talking with their doctor in other ways besides in person, such as email, text, or video chat, and 80 percent of surveyed residents from North America said they’d feel comfortable with their medical information shared online.

In-person visits aren’t going away immediately, but more and more advantages are in the spotlight for using cutting edge technology:

  • No waiting rooms. A home computer check-in means no need to sit in uncomfortable chairs near other sick patients. Busy offices or emergency rooms also may sometimes triage people based on medical needs, which is good for them, but not as fun for less critical people who must wait longer. One new service that lets you create a live medical connection is HealthLinkNow. With a web cam and a high-speed connection, you can interact with a doctor or therapist via your PC, Mac laptop/desktop, tablet, or smartphone. You can also browse your medical history or read general health info while waiting for their appointment to connect, according to Health Link Now. There are similar proprietary programs, and some doctors are exploring common video conferencing programs like Skype or Google Hangout, but there are some concerns about privacy and security. However, Google has also come up with a service called Google Helpouts that MedCity News says is compliant with medical privacy standards. 
  • Better than self-diagnosis. If you need help but don’t want to leave your home or aren’t able to see a doctor in a timely manner, telemedicine can provide qualified and customized medical advice. With so many health and wellness sites out there, from well-known ones like Webmd.com to more amateur health alternatives, people can quickly become overwhelmed trying to figure out their ailment. Thomas Fergus from Baylor University came up with the term “cyberchondria” for people who feel worse about their health after researching possible conditions online. An online consultation from a legitimate doctor can reassure you that don’t have the exotic, scary disease you read about, or point you in the right direction to get qualified answers. 
  • More expertise. Some communities are trying telemedicine at a local level, where a group of doctors in a region are working with patients online. Others sites are enlisting the help of doctors, therapists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners from around the country. MeMd.me for instance, provides a national team of board-certified physicians and other trained medical staff, who are able to offer consultations and diagnoses for a variety of conditions, from scrapes to sore throats. Patients must be at least age 18 and have a valid credit card and email address. They also need a high-speed connection, a web cam with at least 1.3 megapixels, and a newer browser (at least Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 7 or Safari 4). 
  • More mobile options. Since more people are using mobile devices rather than their laptops or desktops, it’s beneficial to find ways to interact with providers via phones or tablets, not just desktops. Doctors also like the ability to access a patient’s health information from their mobile devices and sync any fresh information with their file, such as x-rays or fresh tests. They can later directly connect with pharmacies via video chat to file a prescription instead of filling out a form for the patient to redeem. Other new products include telemedicine “carts” that offer all sorts of information at the provider’s fingertips. Information Week recently discussed 12 new telemedicine tools, including Independa’s caregiver app that provides patient readings including blood sugar levels, and triggers alarms if their information changes significantly. The are also programs that allow patient data at medical center critical care units to be viewed remotely.
By Margaret Riddell Subscribe to 33rd Square

Author Bio - Margaret is a health and wellness enthusiast who blogs about living a healthy, positive lifestyle.