What is Telemedicine?

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Maximiliano García

Telemedicine, a new concept which improves health medical assistance and health care, characterized by using tools created by Technological Industries and Communication Services (TICS). It involves several levels of services ranging from a simple phone call to surgery or monitoring a patient remotely or in teleassisted manner. For instance, a patient can tele-communicate interactively with a doctor or another professional remotely located,  with basic telecommunication equipment as simple as audio and video.

In terms of telemedicine, there are some concepts which may or may not be included in this area. Therefore, it is relevant to know that its terminology has not yet reached standardized consensus. 

According to the World Health Organization, the expression which has been used since 1970, means “distance health”, which refers to the use of TICS to improve patients’ access to medical attention and information, where distance is a critical factor for both health professionals and patients. 

Technological tools can be used for diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of illnesses, as well as evaluation and research with the aim of offering continuous education to improve individuals’ and communities’ health. Although the use of this expression is quite recent, the concept has been applied in Australia since the 1900’s, when peasants used radio to communicate with the “Royal Flying Medical Service”, an air service of ambulatory medicine.

The WHO has created a world observatory to evaluate the benefits of TICS in telemedicine, as well as solutions’ maturity level in the U.S.A., regionally and worldwide. It also provides a set of standards and regulations with respect to e-health services.

There are four concepts which define telemedicine:

  • Provision of clinical support.
  • Overcoming geographic barriers by connecting users who are in separate locations.
  • Using several kinds of TICs.
  • Aiming at health improvement

The scope of telemedicine includes:

  • Gathering patients’ medical data to be used for evaluation purposes, without  having a physical meeting between specialist and patient.Some areas such as image diagnosis have been operating asynchronlously for a long time.
  • Remote monitoring of chronic diseases Particularly useful for Intensive Care Units because it cuts costs dramatically.
  • Interactive services in real time, ranging from teleconsultancy services to telesurgery.

Recently, the Swiss Centre of Electronics and Microtechnology has been developing nanotechnological devices with bluetooth connectivity to monitor health metrics. This development opens a new posibility which is “wearable” technology, connected with telehealth, with a myriad application on athletes and the elderly, among others. 

Teaching and training are additional uses of telemedicine, which play a leading role in biomedicine and research, because they allow access to expensive equipment. There is high potential in this area, such as creating models for simulation, tele-attendant portable systems and artificial intelligence. Tridimentional remote visualization techniques also offer innovative training, education, and research.

One of the obstacles most frequently mentioned for the implementation of telemedicine worldwide is the idea that it has an extremely low ROI (return on investment). Other barriers are legal issues with respect to patients’ privacy, low demand, and its infrequent use.

Undoubtedly, by the end of this decade, telemedicine’s major challenges are the development and advances in teleconducted robotic surgery, digital medicine, and “wearable Technology. They will be used to prevent,  predict and diagnose deseases, monitor vital signs in real time, and gather data for statistics.

References
World Health Organization, “TELEMEDICINE - Opportunities and developments in Member States”. Disponible en internet: http://www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_telemedicine_2010.pdf
Smith, Neil. "Lt. John Clifford Peel, Australian Flying Corps". 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps & Royal Australian Air Force. Disponible en internet: http://www.3squadron.org.au/subpages/peel.htm
HI-TECH, EURONEWS. 2014. Monitoring vital signs online, citado 3 de mayo de 2018. Disponible en internet: http://www.euronews.com/2014/02/04/monitoring-vital-signs

Maximiliano García

Analyst Programmer

Consultor Business Analytics