The Rise of Telemedicine
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
By Catherine Diyakonov, Lord Byng Secondary School, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
In 2017, the World Health Organization estimated that over half of the world’s population does not have access to healthcare services. Not having healthcare can be fatal, but telemedicine is proving to be a possible solution. Telemedicine is the delivery of healthcare services at a distance, enabling the exchange of needed information for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, advancing the health of individuals and their communities (WHO, 2010). With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a spike in telemedicine usage, this emerging technology has proven to be a useful alternative to save lives around the world.
Although telemedicine has only taken off more recently since the beginning of the pandemic, this form of healthcare has been used since the mid-20th century. Now, with current technological advancements being developed, countries that do not have direct access to medical consults may still be able to receive this service. Telemedicine has the potential to be an indispensable tool in the fight against critical global health issues, especially for communities with limited access to in-person medical services. Despite physical barriers between clinicians and patients, access to healthcare service will still be accessible, and individuals can be provided with a feeling of reassurance in knowing they will not be dependent on physical healthcare facilities.
There are several types of telemedicine, with many forms still emerging as the field continues to develop (Mechanic et al., 2020). The first type is synchronous telemedicine, where the healthcare professional and patient communicate live. An example of this is the Facilitated Virtual Visit that allows the patient and health professional to meet at a distance. A second type of telemedicine is asynchronous telemedicine, also known as the “store-and-forward” technique, where a patient or physician collects information and sends it to a specialist physician to determine the best treatment plan. The final type of telemedicine is remote patient monitoring (Mechanic et al., 2020). In this practice, the patient evaluates his or her individual status through videos or self-diagnostic tests.
Telemedicine quickly delivers assistance to where it is needed most. A recent study provided data regarding video-enabled telemedicine’s impact on healthcare delivery from one large healthcare system, NYU Langone Health, at the focal point of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States (Mann et al., 2020). Between March 2nd and April 14th, telemedicine visits in urgent care increased from 369.1 to 866.8 daily, totaling a 135% increase (Mann et al., 2020). On the other hand, in non-urgent care post expansion, telemedicine visits increased from 94.7 to 4209.3, a 4345% increase (Mann et al., 2020). The data alone suggests that telemedicine has the potential to become the new norm of treatment within the healthcare industry.
However, developing countries do not have access to the same resources that large healthcare systems have. It is important to note that developing countries must gain access to necessary technology, whether through government programs or globalization, before being able to establish a telemedicine system. As various technologies become increasingly common in these countries, a greater number of organizations can organize telemedicine initiatives. Because telemedicine projects in developing countries are often carried out by private or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), these various projects may not always be cited and thoroughly analyzed in specific scientific literature (Combi et al., 2016). Instead, they may be found in general reports, which can prove harder to access. By overcoming each barrier one step at a time, these organizations can start to make a visible difference in our world.
Telemedicine is steadily approaching the forefront of the healthcare industry, and implementing its widespread use in developing countries is becoming more probable with each technological advancement being made. Although adopting these technologies may be a strenuous process, telemedicine has proven to save millions of lives and global efforts should aim to make the service accessible for every individual.
Combi, C., Pozzani, G., & Pozzi, G. (2016, November 2). Telemedicine for Developing Countries. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5228142/
Latifi, R., & Doarn, C. R. (2020, September 10). Perspective on COVID-19: Finally, Telemedicine at Center Stage. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/TMJ.2020.0132
Mann, D. M., Chen, J., Chunara, R., Testa, P. A., & Nov, O. (2020, April 23). COVID-19 transforms health care through telemedicine: evidence from the field. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7188161/
Mechanic, O. J., Persaud, Y., & Kimball, A. B. (2020, September 18). Telehealth systems. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459384/
Ohannessian, R., Duong, T. A., & Odone, A. (2020, April 2). Global Telemedicine Implementation and Integration Within Health Systems to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call to Action. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32238336/
Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic. (2020, June 10). CDC. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/telehealth.html
World Health Organization. (2010). Telemedicine: Opportunities and developments in Member States: Report on the second global survey on eHealth 2009 (Global Observatory for eHealth Series 2). https://www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_telemedicine_2010.pdf
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