The term telemedicine is derived from the combination of a Greek word “Tele” which means “distance” and a Latin word “mederi” which means “to cure”. Distance is a limitation so that people living in remote areas have access to good quality and timely medical care. Telemedicine attempts to overcome this restriction by closing this gap between the patient and the healthcare provider. The World Health Organization defines Telemedicine as “The provision of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health professionals who use information and communication technologies to exchange valid information for diagnosis , disease and injury treatment and prevention, research and evaluation, and for continuing education of health care providers, all for the sake of promoting the health of individuals and their communities. ” For example, a patient or healthcare provider or caregiver can use a wireless phone to automatically upload vital signs and send it to a remote monitoring center. Telemedicine was one of the initial technologies that improved the spread of health care services in which areas that were initially considered inaccessible could also access health care facilities.
Benefits of telemedicine
Telemedicine improves accessibility to healthcare facilities for the patient living in remote areas and enables physicians to communicate with patients and expand their services beyond their own clinic. Telemedicine reduces travel time for both the patient and the healthcare provider. It also decreases the number of hospital stays, allows shared staff of health professionals that results in reduced cost of medical care. Along with reducing travel time, it also reduces travel related stress. Improves continuity of patient care, as the patient, primary care physician, specialist, and family members can actively participate during a consultation.
Challenges of telemedicine
Physicians may not be aware of the benefits or usefulness of telemedicine and may be resistant to the use of such electronic medicine technologies. Building patient confidence in the outcome of these new technologies is another challenge. Language can be a barrier in some countries. For example, only 65.38% of the Indian population can read and write and only 2% are well versed in English.
From the hospital’s perspective, the implementation of telemedicine involves the investment of a high capital associated with technology and communication and, therefore, this may become financially unfeasible. Telemedicine is compatible with various types of software and hardware that are still immature and need to evolve.
Telemedicine is the answer to the question of solving the problem of inaccessibility to healthcare facilities. With proper implementation, it can serve multiple purposes alongside basic or specialized health services. Recent advances in the field of information technology have improved the quality of telemedicine services and have also reduced related costs to a great extent. However, concerns about the security of patient data, or of becoming completely dependent on such services, are emerging in relation to telemedicine. However, the judicious use of this health technology can save many more lives than ever before and greatly reduce healthcare costs.