Everything You Need to Know About Telemedicine
- Oct 27, 2021
- Reviewed by: Amy Rontal
Telemedicine and telehealth are an important and increasingly common aspect of modern health care. Med school students should expect to incorporate telemedicine into their studies and future careers as doctors. Read on to learn about the basics!
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine is an exciting frontier in the delivery of healthcare across all facets of medicine. We have to first start with a few definitions. Telemedicine is the act of practicing medicine remotely, without requiring the provider and patient to be together in the same room. It is often enabled by technology and is not unlike interactions you might have with friends or family over Zoom and FaceTime.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is a concept related to telemedicine. It incorporates telemedicine with other facets of care.
There are three different broad types of telehealth and numerous applications of each:
- The first uses the transfer of data, oftentimes images, and is known as the “store and forward” method.
- The second is remote patient monitoring by which vital signs or blood sugars can be monitored by a physician remotely.
- The third is the real-time telemedicine previously referenced, whereby patients can actually see patients in real time via video-conferencing.
How did telemedicine start?
The advent of telemedicine is linked to a Dutch physician, Willem Einthoven, who sent electrocardiograms over long distances to be evaluated by a physician who was hundreds of miles away. This led to hundreds of radiology reports being sent across states and consultations occurring by radio.
And it’s easy to understand why. If a patient can be treated without an actual visit, a physician is able to see more patients in a day and provide significantly more efficient care.
The COVID-19 pandemic also made clear an additional advantage of optimized social distancing; the ability to see your doctor remotely minimized risk of exposure to the virus.
All of this has been enabled almost exclusively by developments in technology that have permitted services like virtual visits at CVS through its app, dermatologic evaluations online, and evaluation of ophthalmologic conditions, among many more applications.
Where is telemedicine going and why should you care?
While nobody knows exactly where telemedicine is going, we know that it can be a major tool for physicians to provide care to patients who might otherwise not have access, especially in rural areas or underprivileged communities.
The limitations of telemedicine
Telemedicine of course comes with a caveat that the evaluation can be completed based only on information that is able to be communicated electronically. Any kind of procedure or laboratory study will still require an in-person visit.
Furthermore, the physical exam can be difficult to conduct over a virtual platform. Another issue unique to telemedicine is medical-legal questions about licensing. Video-conferencing platforms render state boundaries less concrete, but providers are only able to provide care to patients physically within the lines of the state where they are licensed.
Finally, protecting patients is always of utmost importance; if care is transitioned to a virtual platform, steps have to be taken to ensure that service is secure and confidential.
How does someone become skilled at telemedicine?
Given its role in delivery of care, telemedicine is being incorporated in training curricula at medical schools and residencies across the country. This is how care is, and will continue to be, delivered and understanding how to use it will be an important skill for everyone on their path to becoming a healthcare provider.
Like anything, the best way to develop comfort is practice. Taking advantage of opportunities to interface virtually with patients will help hone skills related to the patient interaction, when telemedicine is effective and when it is not, and how to optimize the patient and provider experience. More exposure will lead to aptitude navigating data and history review prior to the conversation with the patient, optimizing the virtual interface during the interaction itself, and coordinating care after the encounter.
Telehealth and telemedicine are very promising in their utility and applicability. With more and more research and innovation, they will only keep getting better. As it becomes more and more integrated into how we care for patients, becoming comfortable with it will be another important component of well-rounded medical training.