TELEMEDICINE: THE FUTURE OF HEALTHCARE, NOW
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Healthcare as we know it is about to undergo a profound change based off a future vision that has been gradually etched out through the scientific breakthroughs of the last three decades. The recent events preceding the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to propel humanity toward an era of technologically-assisted medicine that is comparable to many works of science-fiction.
Telemedicine is one such technological breakthrough that is fast replacing the conventional office-based approach to medicine - particularly as the world settles into a collective ‘New Normal’ subsequent to the easing of lockdown restrictions.
What is Telemedicine?
In broad terms, Telemedicine is any form of medicine or healthcare that is enacted remotely, at a distance, through the use of information and communication technology (ICT).
According to the World Health Organization, Telemedicine can be defined as:
“The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”
For most people, telemedicine is something equitable to having a video chat checkup with their doctor. While this view of telemedicine is not wrong, it only accounts for a small branch of this innovative field; namely teleconsultations and office-based telemedicine. Telepsychology, teledermatology, teleradiology and many other fields of medicine that have gone remote through the use of ICT have been making use of teleconsultations with great success for many years now.
Other branches of telemedicine have been developing alongside teleconsultation, such as telepathology and telepharmacology. In telepathology, at-home lab tests are conducted on the patient with the results being sent to their doctor, who can then remotely draw up a treatment plan and teleconsult with the patient to monitor success.
Telepharmacology works hand in hand with telepathology in the sense that medicines are dispensed remotely and sent to the patient at home. Pharmacies of the future will essentially be operated online with no need for unnecessary points of contact between the patient and the pharmacist.
In general, telemedicine can be divided into the following categories which apply to all spheres of medicine:
- Teleconsultation as described above.
- Telesupervision (or telemonitoring) is the use of ICT to supervise or monitor patients from a distance. Other technology has been developed that makes valuable contributions to telemonitoring, such as epileptic and diabetic-monitoring wrist wearables and other technological accessories that monitor body states and functions.
- Tele-interpretation is the use of ICT to get medical test results remotely interpreted by experts.
Current areas of research in telemedicine are focusing on generating specific computerized tests that work hand-in-hand with bio-accessories to diagnose diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Similar advances are being made in using better technology to implement real-time interventions that could save lives, such as technology that senses when a person is about to have a seizure or an anxiety attack and that is capable of instituting a timely solution until human help can arrive.
History of Telemedicine
The idea of telemedicine was first documented in 1879 (very shortly after the invention of the first telephones), when the Lancet published an article that promoted the concept of telephonic doctor consultations as a means to reduce unnecessary checkups.
In 1925, the cover of Science and Invention magazine displayed a patient being treated by a doctor through the use of a radio. Within the magazine, there was additionally a write-up about a device (that had yet to be invented) which could monitor the patient from a distance and allow for a video examination. The first television was subsequently invented in 1927, bringing remote viewing into the sphere of possibilities for the first time in documented history.
By 1958, NASA had already started to perfect telemonitoring technology during Project Mercury, in which the tech was used to survey the health of astronauts orbiting the Earth.
In spite of telemedicine being used by various military forces and NASA since the 60’s, it was only since the 90’s that basic telemedicine started to make its way to members of the general public. Since that time, advances in technology have evolved telemedicine into what it is today.
Preliminary studies suggest that telemedicine improves patient outcomes, reduces the amount of time a patient spends in a clinical setting, is more convenient for all parties involved and overall has a positive net result on patient satisfaction.
Additional benefits of telemedicine include:
- Saving of transport costs and time, as well as reducing travel-related pollution.
- Reducing infectious disease transmission throughout the population.
- Reaching those who have restricted access to healthcare service providers.
- Allowing for doctors to see more patients, save time and reach more individuals in need of healthcare.
- Contributing significantly toward advancements in global healthcare.
- Doing away with delays in treatment that could be life-threatening in certain instances.
Telehealth is Bridging Critical Gaps in Healthcare
In many instances, telemedicine has bridged critical gaps in healthcare by providing quick and efficient communication to those who either cannot access proper healthcare or who need treatment faster than they can get to the relevant medical facility.
India is a prime example of a country that has been making use of telemedicine to bridge the large gap in their healthcare system. Those living in the poverty-stricken rural areas (accounting for the majority of the population) are unable to access quality healthcare, typically due to a lack of access to facilities, infrastructure and credible physicians to sustain the population density. Through the use of telemedicine, more patients in India have received the treatment they need.
Aside from astronauts and anyone who doesn’t fancy leaving their homes, the following individuals benefit from telemedicine:
- Rural Communities
- The elderly and those who need professional care
- Diabetics, those with heart problems, those who are susceptible to strokes or seizures, psychiatric patients, and many other chronic conditions
- People who might have otherwise traveled to that country for medical tourism.
Healthcare in the ‘New Normal’ and Beyond
The ‘New Normal’ is a term currently circulating the media as the world slowly begins to ease its way out of COVID-19 lockdown. Social distancing in an effort to reduce pathogenic spread and exposure has pushed forth a vision of the future worthy of science fiction publications - picturing a society in which sterility, security and artificial technology are more highly prized than the natural ways humans have been interacting since the dawn of our existence.
In such a future, cash is no longer deemed necessary – or could even be viewed as a threat to public safety - and many jobs that demand human-to-human interactions will also fall away, with human inputs being replaced by robotics and other advanced technology. For those who haven’t noticed, this idea is not altogether new and society appears to have been making plenty of progress in this regard already; reflected through the movements of the governing bodies and large multi-national corporations that attempt to shape modern life on Earth.
As humanity is settling on what the ‘New Normal’ could be in light of the recent events, there is an opportunity to merge the old paradigm with the new one in such a way that is harmonious for everyone on the planet.
Telemedicine is one such field that has emerged as a result of this forward thinking, which continues to propel mankind toward this specific model of future healthcare. Aside from the obvious effect of containing the spread of an infection, telehealth will eventually become the face of global healthcare due to the potential for better efficiency and consumer convenience. Telemedicine will eventually advance into being able to enact all health services remotely, from general checkups to surgery.
Beyond this point, post-future healthcare may not even require humans to operate this fast-forming global telehealth system due to advances in artificial intelligence.
With AI making its way into everyday technology and improving at a tremendous rate every year, telehealth will eventually be able to provide humanity with seamless integration of real-time information and research data in order to tackle any given health problems that may arise. Bio-accessories that can scan the body and send back data for processing by AI-assisted software may eventually become commonplace as biological implants and integrated into our physiology. The preconceived pinnacle of success in this line of thought would be doing away with disease entirely.
A List of Mya Care Tele-Health Service Providers
With hospitals being over-burdened in areas where the COVID-19 pandemic hit the worst, many healthcare providers have turned to relying on telemedicine during this time as a way to ensure everyone can still receive the healthcare they need and that everyone has access to COVID-19 testing.
Telemedicine has become an integral part of current healthcare in India, Spain, Malaysia, the UK, UAE and many other countries. Online platforms such as Mya Care make telehealth possible through allowing individuals to quickly navigate a selection of the world’s best healthcare providers that offer telemedicine as a service.
Below is a brief overview of hospitals offering telehealth services on Mya Care.
For more information on global COVID-related initiatives, read our article on the efforts hospitals part of the MYA Care network are carrying out during the pandemic in order to aid crisis resolution.
Tele-healthcare in India
Many hospitals in India are offering local COVID testing as well as plenty of educational resources. Here are four healthcare providers in India that offer global telemedicine services:
- Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. Telehealth services are available for pre-existing patients.
- Columbia Asia Hospitals. Coronavirus web screening tools are available through their online portal.
- Medanta Medicity. Offering telehealth to anyone through video consults, telephonic consults, messages or through the use of their app.
- Hinduja Hospital. Teleconsultations are available to all patients, whether new or existing.
Tele-healthcare in Spain
Spain is home to Quironsalud, one of the best hospital chains in Europe.
- Quironsalud Hospital Group. This prestigious hospital group is offering world-class telemedicine services to anyone on the planet, offering a golden standard of healthcare in a league of its own.
Check the Quironsalud website for more information on the novel coronavirus.
Tele-healthcare in the UK
Many hospitals across the UK are making large efforts to keep hospital beds available for the pandemic and are offering localized home testing for COVID-19.
- The London Global Practice. Video consultations are offered to anyone regardless of their location in the world.
Tele-healthcare in the UAE
In response to the pandemic, medical tourism hotspot Dubai has turned to telemedicine in order to treat clientel.
- Dubai London Clinic. Telehealth services for patients have been made available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the coronavirus pandemic has instigated the onset of a sudden global crisis in which many are forced to remain at home, it has also generated a serious call to action for humanity to consider the future of healthcare. It is becoming increasingly clear that advanced artificial technology is to be a part of our future society; however, the full implications have yet to be understood.
Medical technologies that arise from breakthroughs in telehealth ought to enhance life for all individuals, with a focus on improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare on the planet. Certainly under the current circumstances, this is exactly what telemedicine is able to achieve effortlessly - yet as for life after the pandemic, the way in which telemedicine will be incorporated in the ‘New Normal’ is difficult to assess. We are currently at a turning point in our history; a time where we can shape the way we want to integrate the future into the now. How we go about that will depend on each one of us who have an equal share in shaping our collective future.
To search for the best healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.
-  https://www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_telemedicine_2010.pdf
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334286/
-  https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/telehealth
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207141/
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5629741/
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5038887/
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