Telemedicine is the umbrella term that covers the deployment of a variety of online and wireless applications and services that can send medical information quickly and securely from one site to another, and connect patients to health care providers remotely. Its history began more than 40 years ago primarily as a means to provide health care services to remote areas. Today, telemedicine is considered an integral part of daily life, and has been integrated into the ongoing operations of hospitals and private physician offices to connect these providers to their patient’s homes, schools and workplaces.
Video conferencing, unified communications, network security, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology are among the most widely used services and applications included in telemedicine. All of them provide significant benefits to both patients and health care professionals.
With telemedicine deployed, there is no longer a need for the patient to travel to a care provider’s office for routine checkups or monitoring services. There’s also no need to waste valuable time in waiting rooms when physicians and health care professionals can use electronic and wireless applications and services to provide the same quality care remotely.
Overall, patients save time and commuting costs, and providers benefit by being able to see more patients, and free up their time to focus on more serious health issues that absolutely require an in-office visit.
How does it work?
Telemedicine supports patient consultations via video conferencing and the transmission of digital images. It can also be used for the remote monitoring of vital signs, heart rates and glucose levels. For example:
- Primary physician consultation with a specialist. Whether using live interactive video to discuss a patient’s condition, or exchanging digital transmissions of diagnostic images, a primary care physician and a specialist can use telemedicine to collaborate and render a diagnosis without the need for multiple office visits. Primary physicians and specialists can also share patient data electronically for later review.
- Remote patient monitoring. Using electronic devices connected to the Internet to collect and send data from the patient to a home health agency or a testing facility for evaluation eliminates the need for an office visit. Two specific applications are the monitoring of a specific vital sign, such as blood glucose levels or heart rates, but can include any number of measurement indicators for homebound patients.
How do you make the connections between patient and health care provider?
- Networked programs can connect hospitals and clinics in highly populated urban areas with outlying clinics and community health centers in rural or suburban areas. The links may use dedicated high-speed lines or the Internet for telecommunication links between sites.
- Point-to-point connections using private high speed networks are used by hospitals and clinics that deliver services directly or outsource specialty services to independent medical service providers. Such outsourced services include radiology, stroke assessment, mental health and intensive care services.
- Monitoring center links are used for cardiac, pulmonary or fetal monitoring, as well as home care and related services provided for patients in the comfort of their own home. Standard landline or wireless connections are used to establish communications directly between the patient and the center, but Internet systems like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is also an effective option.
What are the Key Features and Benefits?
- Improved Access – brings healthcare services to patients in distant locations, and allows physicians and health facilities to expand their reach well beyond their own offices. With health care provider shortages in both rural and urban areas, telemedicine can increase service to millions of new patients, and provide access to quality care for the elderly and those with mobility limitations.
- Cost Efficiencies – significantly reduces healthcare costs and increases efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays.
- Improved Quality – According to many recent studies, the quality of healthcare services delivered via telemedicine is proven to be as good as those provided during traditional in-person consultations. And in some specialty areas i.e., mental health and intensive care unit (ICU) treatment, telemedicine is even shown to provide superior care, with greater outcomes and patient satisfaction.
- Meeting Patient Demand – With increased awareness of the proven results, patients are demanding increased access to health care services available via telemedicine technology for their families and their communities. The word is out that telemedicine technologies will reduce travel time and eliminate much of the stress associated with doctor office visits.
- More Effective Health Care Network Staff Training, Education and Communication – health care providers who operate out of multiple locations can link them using an assortment of Internet-based and wireless technologies to provide training and real-time communications between sites.
The Brookfield Group offers advanced technology solutions to develop and deploy telemedicine systems that improve access at the point of care, enhance collaboration, and provide reliable and secure access to information. It all adds up to a classic win/win scenario for both patients and health care providers. Anyone who has wasted valuable time in a waiting room will welcome the option of using technology to forego a visit to a doctor’s office or health care facility. And, with this technology at their disposal, health care providers can administer effective treatment to more patients than ever before.