Telemedicine (also referred to as “telehealth” or “e-health”) allows healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations using telecommunications technology. Consider these examples:
• While Sheetal is choosing a partner for the wellness programs for her corporate, she is in a dilemma whether she should give priority to a company that promises to provide 24/7 doctors’ consultations with certified doctors.
• Kishan and Savitha are facing a problem of fertility and wish to seek care from their local gynaecologist with the guidance of a fertility specialist from a specialty hospital so that they can seek care in their town without having to travel multiple times until the delivery of the baby.
• Arun’s father is having difficulty to control blood sugars lately. While Arun is taking him to the doctor often, it is becoming extremely difficult for him to go every single time blood sugars are elevated. He wishes, he can follow up with his father’s doctor on a professional platform rather than through a phone call, where he can get an electronic prescription and advice on managing Diabetes better.
In all the above cases, telemedicine can be an excellent solution. In Telemedicine model of healthcare delivery, a patient located in a remote location, connects with the provider through a chat or audio or video consultation, can upload the medical records, and after reviewing, the doctor provides medical advice.
Over the last two decades, medical science has grown in leaps & bounds thanks to the ever-increasing influx of technology into medicine. Today we have treatments available for many every conceivable medical condition, in some form, shape or manner. However, societies are facing inequalities in the delivery of the care, especially so in developing nations.
As India is striving to achieve sustainable development goals using all the available resources is important to be able to provide universal health coverage, and telemedicine is one of them.
Though traditionally telemedicine is viewed as a tool to bridge the accessibility gap to provide care to remote areas, the capabilities and full potential of telemedicine are yet to be realized. Telemedicine can lower inconveniences in seeking care and lower the costs of healthcare for the masses.
Some examples where telemedicine can offer great value are
• Preventive advice and promotion of wellness
• Primary care issues with not just the diagnosis as an end, also with appropriate referrals and follow up and treatment
• Chronic conditions that require repeated follow-ups
• Follow up after surgery
• Rehabilitation programs
• Psychological counseling for issues like stress management and some other conditions
Source: ekincare 24*7 Doctor consultation top health concerns summary.
As it is evident from the above graph most cases of consultation are for chronic but simple health conditions, which may not require exhaustive diagnostic investigations. Also, the consultation will need repeated follow-up which can be challenging in terms of time & cost for a lot of people. Thus, these physical visits can be easily replaced with the help of telemedicine to improve both the reach as well as availability of doctor consultation.
Also, telemedicine does not just limit the interactions between patient and the practitioner. It can also include – a health worker and a physician, or a physician and another physician along with the patient. These can be in the form of exchanging messages, phone consultations, or video consultations. It could be either a real-time (synchronous) interaction, or a store and forward (asynchronous) type of interaction where advice is sought by sending the patients’ records via a cloud.
Improving connectivity, healthcare-technology and declining costs have now made more innovative and technology-enabled telemedicine even more prevalent. However, the regulatory environment is where there needs to be a greater amount of clarity. The lack of guidelines and legislative muscle is hampering the further expansion of this paradigm. Concerns on the use of data, safety of data transfer, privacy are some of the key issues that need attention from policy makers.
AI in digitization of Healthcare
AI helps in creating a personalized environment for both patients and healthcare service providers. It is due to AI that we have a possibility of digitizing the health records just by clicking a picture and uploading onto a platform and these records can be accessed by an individual or a doctor anytime anywhere.
In addition to this, machine learning will further strengthen human and machine interaction. This would create a good impact on diagnostics, risk analytics and drug discovery verticals.
Big Data to result in preventive healthcare
The healthcare industry is getting comfortable with data management. Especially corporates who provide annual health checks to employees have a consolidated summary of the employee health which would provide them with data such as what percentage of population is at risk of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular risk would be clearly indicated to them based on which the HR function can necessary preventive action or enable the employees with tools to go on a preventive healthcare mode.
(Disclaimer: Writer is Dr.Lavanya Aribandi, MD, ABIM, Chief Medical Officer, ekincare. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)