Telemedicine is the process of diagnosing and treating patients by utilizing the latest technology in the field of telecommunication. The world is rapidly approaching a tipping point where telemedicine will move from an occasional offering to one that is preferred and utilized by the majority of patients.
Technological advances have made working with a telemedicine doctor easier than anyone could have imagined only a decade ago. The two greatest advances which have specifically benefited the field of telemedicine are high speed internet and video conferencing. It was the widespread availability of the first that has allowed the second to flourish so spectacularly over the past decade.
Rising Healthcare Costs
The rising cost of healthcare has also played a role in the growth of telemedicine. Many people find it prohibitively expensive to visit a doctor on a regular basis and may forgo the experience altogether in the absence of a true emergency. Unfortunately, studies have repeatedly shown the most effective way to keep health costs down is to actively engage in preventative medicine. This means health screenings and early intervention for individuals who are on the threshold for diabetes, high blood pressure, or other serious health issues.
Other issues such as a sinus or upper respiratory infection may seem mildly annoying and things to be overcome with over the counter medications by those who are unwilling to pay large sums for a doctor’s visit that won’t be covered by insurance due to a substantial deductible. Instead of receiving a course of inexpensive antibiotics they suffer for weeks and ultimately end up with pneumonia or some other more persistent and serious infection. But with telemedicine, it is easy to find a time that is convenient to talk with a doctor and to receive affordable healthcare long before the situation becomes difficult to manage.
Telemedicine providers are becoming popular especially for those who have difficulty accessing traditional healthcare on a regular basis. This is similar to the surge in popularity of independent pharmacies. This includes individuals with mobility, scheduling, or location difficulties.
Many patients with mobility issues are reluctant to ask for help to visit a healthcare provider unless the condition is severe. They avoid visiting the doctor simply because they don’t want to be an imposition to anyone or they don’t have the ability to take themselves. Telemedicine allows them to have expert medical care from the comfort of their own home.
People who have extremely hectic lives may find themselves putting the needs of others ahead of their own personal health needs. This can lead to fatigue and burnout which can decrease the efficacy of one’s own immune system. Annual tests are delayed or forgotten entirely because finding the time to speak with a doctor, have the tests performed, and then go back for the results seems entirely unattainable. Telemedicine allows these individuals to schedule the meetings with a highly qualified doctor at a place and time that is convenient to their schedule. Tests can be performed at most walk-in labs as people have time and then a telemedicine follow-up can address the test results.
Finally, telemedicine has been invaluable for those who live in remote areas and simply don’t have the ability to travel an hour or more each time they may want to consult a physician. Telemedicine is ideal for this population and has helped improve healthcare in underserved areas tremendously.
The Future of Telemedicine
Virtual and augmented reality are two technologies that will continue to propel the field of telemedicine forward. The two most exciting developments are in the fields of augmented and virtual reality. It is only within the past year that the technology has become widely accepted and affordable to the average person. This has spurred rapid development in both sectors and it is possible within a short period they will be effectively integrated into the practice of telemedicine. At some point it may be possible for a physician to put on a virtual reality headset and examine a patient in much the same way he or she would in a clinical setting.
Telemedicine continues to grow at an exponential rate in response for the growing need of affordable and convenient healthcare for patients in all areas of the country. As technology continues to advance and allows for an increasingly personal experience, it is expected that eventually telemedicine will become the preferred method of initial healthcare for a majority of patients.