The term telemedicine is derived from the combination of a Greek word “Tele,” meaning “distance” and a Latin word “mederi” meaning “to heal”. Distance is a constraint for people living in remote areas to access timely, good-quality health care. Telemedicine attempts to overcome this constraint by bridging this gap between the patient and healthcare provider. The World Health Organization defines Telemedicine as, “The delivery of healthcare services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare 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 healthcare providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities”. For example a patient or a health care provider, or caregiver may use a wireless phone to automatically upload vital signs and send it to a remote monitoring center. Telemedicine was one of the initial technologies which improved the spread of healthcare services wherein areas that were considered inaccessible initially were also able to access healthcare facilities.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Telemedicine improves accessibility to health care facilities for the patient living in remote areas and allows physicians to reach out to patients and expand their services beyond their own clinic. Telemedicine reduces travelling time for both patient and the health care provider. It also decreases the number of hospital stays, allows for shared health professional staffing that translates into reduced health care cost. Along with the reduction in travel time it also reduces the stress related to traveling. It improves continuity of patient care as the patient, primary care physician, specialist and family members may be actively involved during a consultation.
Challenges of Telemedicine
Physicians may not be aware of the benefits or utility of telemedicine and may be resistant to use such e-medicine technologies. Building trust in patients about the outcome of these newer technologies is another challenge. Language may be a barrier in some countries. For example only 65.38% of India's population is literate with only 2% being well-versed in English.
From the hospital perspective, implementation of telemedicine involves investment of high capital associated with the technology and communication and so this may become financially unfeasible. Telemedicine is supported by various types of software and hardware is still immature and needs to evolve.
Telemedicine is the answer to the question of solving the problem of inaccessibility to the healthcare facilities. With proper implementation it can serve multiple purposes along with the basic or specialized healthcare services. Recent advances in the field of information technology has improved the quality of the telemedicine services and also reduced the related costs to a great extent. However, concerns about safety of patient data, or becoming completely dependent on such services are being raised in relation to telemedicine. Nevertheless, judicious use of this health technology can save a lot more lives than before and reduce the healthcare costs to a great extent.