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What is Telemedicine

Telemedicine made its debut in the 1960’s as a means of remotely treating astronauts working for NASA. As technology has advanced over the past six decades, so too has our ability to diagnose, treat, and prescribe from a distance.

Telemedicine is defined as a method of providing medical aid remotely, via several different modes and methods. The Maryland State Healthcare Commission describes telemedicine, or telehealth, in the following way: “Telehealth is the use of medical information shared through two-way audio and video and other forms of telecommunication technology, including mobile communication devices and remote monitoring devices, with the goal of improving a patient’s health status.”

Throughout this article, you will learn more about the many facets of telemedicine, how it has come to evolve over time, and the benefits it provides to both patients and physicians.

How Telemedicine is Used Today

Telemedicine is a multifaceted branch of the medical field and can include several methods of use. At it’s basic form, telemedicine allows patients who may otherwise not have access to a physician to have one on one consultations with a real U.S. based medical doctor via the internet. This can occur through e-mail, video, or online chat, and allows patients to explain current medical issues, discuss medical history and request advice. Some of these physicians offer prescription services online, allowing patients to receive a prescription renewal without the need to travel to a local clinic. In a report published by the National Institute of Health will, the range of telehealth possibilities are explained as follows: “On the commonplace side of the spectrum are familiar uses of the telephone for consultations between patients and clinicians and the use of radio to link emergency medical personnel to medical centers. On the other end of the telemedicine spectrum are largely experimental innovations such as telesurgery…”

The more advanced measures of telemedicine, such as telesurgery, are still being developed and fine-tuned. Most telemedicine programs supply less invasive medical assistance, such as advice and the services of online doctors who write prescriptions. Telemedicine is typically not meant to replace a family doctor but should be used in tandem with traditional medical applications to provide convenience, safety, and inclusion.

Telemedicine for Remote Patients

The original use of telemedicine, as a means of treating those away from home in the NASA program, has carried on into the modern structure of this medical application. Now, it is used to help individuals and families who live too far from a doctor to get medical help when necessary. By applying telemedicine, people who would otherwise need to drive hours to a medical clinic can seek basic medical assistance. The Federal Communications Commission expresses will: “Based on advances in information and communications technologies, medical professionals as well as other 'health and care' providers can now offer increasingly robust, remote (from their location to another), interactive (two-way) services to consumers, patients and caregivers.”

This is beneficial, not only to remote rural patients, but to physicians as well. Doctors in remote regions, who may not be working to their full potential can extend their reach and help man more families through an online doctor visit. By connecting through the internet, using online doctor chat, and video feeds, doctors stationed in low-populated regions have access to a greater number of patients.

Telemedicine in a Pinch

Not all patients of telemedicine live remotely, in fact, many telemedicine providers design their services for convenience rather than inaccessibility. Travel and vacationing physicians are big factors in the need for an online medical consultation for many patients in the United States. Whether away from home only to realize you have forgotten your prescription, or at home but your doctor has gone on holiday leaving you without a way to refill your prescription, you can get a prescription written online following an online doctor consultation with a telemedicine service.

These services provide access to real, licensed physicians, where patients can chat with a doctor, get prescription online, and get advice based on individual needs. This service is safer and more efficient than the self-diagnosing practices which have become popular over the past decades. Unlike online tools with preset diagnoses, based on symptoms you input into your computer, being able to physically talk to a doctor online gives you specific advice, and allows a physician to see or hear the problem at hand.

Where it’s Going

Telemedicine has taken a huge leap over the past 6 decades, but there’s still plenty of room for growth. Rather than just being a way to ask a doctor online about current medical conditions, telemedicine is becoming a way to advance remote treatments, surgeries, and other invasive procedures. This could open doors and broaden horizons for countries where advanced medical equipment and specialists aren’t always available.

As it stands, many medical procedures already rely on the use of equipment and machines to perform, but the future of telemedicine is taking this one step further, to allow remote control of these machines. In this way, a heart surgeon from Arizona, USA could help a patient in Bangladesh, India, or a Californian oncologist, could help a patient in an outpost in Alaska.

The potential for this standard of medicine is great, with endless possibilities all weighing on its progression over time. Of course, there are also setbacks, disadvantages, and cons to this form of medicine, which will need to be addressed if it’s meant to become anything other than what it is today.

Is Telemedicine Here to Stay?

Despite the signs that telemedicine is a successful addition to modern medical practices, there are still those who question its ability to maintain the high-standard of medical care offered through traditional methods. Experts in the field believe that telemedicine not only can supply the same level of support that traditional medicine supplies, but that it may be more beneficial than traditional medicine in the future due to its far reach.

With progressing research and advancements in technology, telemedicine as its known today could be an entirely different practice in another decade; only time will tell.

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