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Telemedicine: A Growing Industry Offering Accessible and Affordable Healthcare

Telemedicine might be grouped with newer healthcare

technologies, such as electronic health records, mHealth and patient portals, but it was actually introduced in the 1960s by the military and space technology sectors.

Though often used interchangeably with the term “telehealth,” telemedicine consists of remote clinical services through technologies like remote patient monitoring and live videoconferencing.

Comparatively, telehealth encompasses basic telecommunication tools, including phone calls, text messages and emails which enable patients to communicate with their providers.

Although telemedicine was initially used to treat patients living in remote areas or those with a shortage of doctors, the American Medical Association (AMA) notes telemedicine delivers care through:

  • Real-time, audio-video communication tools (telehealth) that connect physicians and patients in different locations.
  • Store-and-forward technologies that collect images and data to be transmitted and interpreted later.
  • Remote patient-monitoring tools such as blood pressure monitors, Bluetooth-enabled digital scales and other wearable devices that can communicate biometric data for review (which may involve the use of mHealth apps).
  • Verbal/audio-only and virtual check-ins via patient portals, messaging technologies, etc.

In addition to providing cost savings for patients and physicians compared to traditional healthcare approaches, telemedicine increases efficiency through improved management of chronic diseases, reduced travel times, shared health professional staffing and fewer and shorter hospital stays. When employed to address the needs of low-acuity patients with disease exposure concerns, it can prevent overcrowding in emergency departments and primary and urgent care clinics. This specific advantage has certainly made an impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Effect

For patients with a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, telemedicine aids in streamlined triage, treatment and coordination of care. Similarly, using virtual visits enables clinicians to provide care to patients with non-urgent medical and mental health conditions while still promoting social distancing. For some providers, telemedicine allows them to provide patients with online or app-based questionnaires to facilitate COVID-19 screening to determine the need for in-person care.

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