Telemedicine has certainly been a buzzword in recent decades, more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like any other industry, the healthcare industry needed to adapt to the changing global needs as a result of the novel coronavirus. Before the pandemic, several countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of America were at the forefront of emerging technologies in healthcare including telemedicine. The recent events have acted as a catalyst globally and the importance of telemedicine has now been recognised on multiple fronts so much so that governments around the world are now making sure that it is part of their healthcare infrastructure.

Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to assess, diagnose and treat patients at a distance by using telecommunications technology.

The idea of telemedicine is not new. Healthcare systems around the world have always been trying to utilise different technologies to improve the quality of care and what may have started as an essential service for rural communities has now been recognised as a vital component of any healthcare system. An 1879 article in the Lancet talked about how the use of telephones may reduce unnecessary office visits. Healthcare change and adoption of new technologies are known to be slow but incredible advances in technology which offer incredible advantages coupled with a new generation of tech-savvy population has now accelerated its adoption.

Doctor looking at ipad

The benefits

The advantages that telemedicine conveys can’t be ignored anymore and as the younger generation demands more accessible and convenient ways of taking care of their health both healthcare systems, as well as healthcare professionals, must adapt. We all need to understand that telemedicine is not the answer to everything; there are things that telemedicine can’t do but for the rest, it is an excellent service.

Benefits for the Providers

– Improves patient engagement – with an increase in chronic conditions patient engagement is extremely important to allow proactive treatment. Using diabetes as an example, rather than waiting for a follow-up appointment down the line, by using telemedicine a doctor can be warned earlier that the patient’s blood glucose is higher than it should be prompting an earlier appointment. Overall, this can result in a reduction in costs.

– Expands access to care and reaches more patients – this may not only translate into an increased revenue stream, however, it also enables healthcare professionals to reach a bigger population segment to offer their expertise to.

– Reduces patient no shows – Patients see taking time off work and traffic as a barrier to attending clinics particularly for follow-ups. Telemedicine removes this barrier making no shows almost a thing of the past.

– Improves patient satisfaction – Increased privacy for sensitive medical issues, convenience and no travel time are just a few points which are likely to breed a happier patient.

– Less exposure to illness and infections – highlighted by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, when providers see their patients remotely their exposure is nil.

– Less overhead cost – Offering telemedicine services does not mean that healthcare professionals do not engage in physical consultations but it may mean a reduction in office space with fewer exam rooms or less front desk support requirements which would translate into less expenditure.

 

Telemedicine is here to stay. The advantages it confers far outweigh any disadvantage when used correctly.

Benefits for the Patients

– Improved access to care – First and foremost it makes it easier for people with disabilities and mobility issues to access care – including the older segment of the population and those who may be geographically isolated. It also enables easier access to specialist care.

– Preventative care & monitoring disease – By enabling healthcare professionals to monitor more frequently their patients this may result in improvement of long-term health especially in the context of chronic conditions. Using the above example of diabetes, identifying uncontrolled blood glucose sooner rather than later may result in avoiding a hospital admission for the patient.

– Convenience – Accessing a healthcare professional from the comfort and privacy of your home means that you may not be required to take time off work to visit the clinic or arrange childcare. It also means that the excitement of visiting the healthcare professional may be reduced; this may allow patients to retain more information post-consultation. Furthermore, multistream technology now allows relatives who may be abroad to join in the consultation.

– Slowing the spread of infection/avoiding other infections – waiting in a clinic room means that you are exposed to people who may be sick and often in close quarters. Dangerous for everyone, this may be even more catastrophic for individuals with a weakened immune system due to underlying conditions. Telemedicine eliminates this risk and directs patients to the medical room only when needed.

Patient speaking to doctor

Disadvantages

– Telemedicine is not for everything and everyone – Emergency care and some conditions are not suitable for telemedicine.

– Lack of robust policies – Technology is constantly growing at a fast pace and thus it is difficult for policymakers to keep up with the industry. Moreover, Malta is yet to draft into law adequate telemedicine provisions.

– Technology is expensive – Telemedicine as an initial investment is expensive, although over time healthcare systems should see a positive return on their investment through the advantages mentioned above and more. Here at Tabib.mt, we try to make the technology accessible to everyone and anyone.

How can you use telemedicine

– The number of telemedicine applications is vast and wide. Here we give some examples of how healthcare professionals may apply telemedicine and patients to seek these services.

– Chronic Disease Management – Healthcare professionals and patients alike understand the need for constant monitoring of chronic conditions and the need for frequent follow-ups. Telemedicine enables convenient scheduling of these follow-ups which results in enhanced continuity of care as well as the reduction in appointment times. Factor in medical devices at home and it enables healthcare professionals to intervene almost in real-time possibly reducing hospitalisations.

– Triaging – Healthcare professionals can quickly and easily triage individuals online and thus divert patients according to their needs. Everyone knows that emergency rooms are often overcrowded, stressful environments – in most instances patients presenting with non-emergent conditions to the ED certainly doesn’t help.

– Second opinion – Patients may require second opinions regarding their management. Telemedicine enables the sharing of data through secure frameworks; sometimes even getting a second opinion from an international specialist.

– Medication management – Repeat prescriptions and medication alteration can easily be performed online at a fraction of the time and sometimes at a reduced cost.

– Psychiatry and Psychology – Apart from all the benefits mentioned above, telemedicine is an important step in reducing the barrier of stigma. It may also enhance feelings of safety, security and privacy for many patients.

– Intelligent features – Individuals who make use of telemedicine systems may have access to intelligent features such as clinical decision support systems and enhanced artificial intelligence features.

Telemedicine is here to stay. The advantages it confers far outweigh any disadvantage when used correctly. At the end of the day, just like the stethoscope, it is a tool for healthcare professionals to use and thus should be seen as an adjunct to one’s practice. Patients are increasingly aware of their health, convenience and how technology can help in their wellbeing and thus will eventually favour healthcare professionals who embrace technology.

– Post-hospitalization care – Follow up of individuals after their hospital admissions may result in better patient care and fewer readmissions.

– Intelligent features – Individuals who make use of telemedicine systems may have access to intelligent features such as clinical decision support systems and enhanced artificial intelligence features.

Telemedicine is here to stay. The advantages it confers far outweigh any disadvantage when used correctly. At the end of the day, just like the stethoscope, it is a tool for healthcare professionals to use and thus should be seen as an adjunct to one’s practice. Patients are increasingly aware of their health, convenience and how technology can help in their wellbeing and thus will eventually favour healthcare professionals who embrace technology.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] – Post-hospitalization care – Follow up of individuals after their hospital admissions may result in better patient care and fewer readmissions.

– Intelligent features – Individuals who make use of telemedicine systems may have access to intelligent features such as clinical decision support systems and enhanced artificial intelligence features.

Telemedicine is here to stay. The advantages it confers far outweigh any disadvantage when used correctly. At the end of the day, just like the stethoscope, it is a tool for healthcare professionals to use and thus should be seen as an adjunct to one’s practice. Patients are increasingly aware of their health, convenience and how technology can help in their wellbeing and thus will eventually favour healthcare professionals who embrace technology.

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