Telemedicine services have taken the world by storm, even more so now with limited mobility due to COVID-19. The web and an internet connection are the gifts of science and technology that directly improves our daily activities. It is the reason behind the transformation of our lives today including accessibility, opportunity & connection among other ways. Health services like diagnosis, prescription, advice, etc. can be easily acquired from home with a computer, web camera and a reliable internet connection.
Telemedicine started with the occasional two-way television consultations, but now it is expanding and may soon redefine modern health care. With the help of wearable health monitors, computers, and videos, the doctors will be able to evaluate, diagnose, and treat the patients—in the absence of physical presence in their office.
What Is E-Health?
Electronic health (e-health) is a broad term which refers to all kinds of healthcare-related activities which are adopted and managed by information and communications technology (ICT). Different equipment is used by ICT like mobile phones, computers, smartwatches and internet services including email and social media, etc. In e-health, ICT devices and technologies are used for two way communication of information between a patient and a doctor so that the patient gets health care services like diagnosis and management of diseases. In addition to patient health care, this technology is used in conducting medical researches, storing medical information for future use, etc.
Two Types Of E-Health
In addition to health care services, e-health is equally valuable in the management aspect of health institutes, making e-health beneficial for both clinical and non-clinical sectors. The two main types of e-health are:
1. Clinical E-Health
Clinical e-health includes health care services directly provided to patients. The aspects of its application include:
- E-Prescribing: with the use of e-health, drugs can be prescribed to the patients after diagnosis of the diseases using the technologies. The prescription provided to the patients may be in the form of video, audio, or written. Patients may also print the prescription details
- Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE): It is a series of tests, diagnostics and treatments which are suggested by a doctor to the patient which can be communicated to another staff at distance through electronic devices. This allows the doctor at a remote place with limited resources to manage patients efficiently and also helps to maintain uniformity in patient care
- Clinical Decision Support System: In this system, medical observations and clinical experiences are stored so that they can be used for future medical decisions effectively. Accuracy in diagnosis and patient management can be ensured with the help of this system. It also decreases the incidence of medical negligence as it helps to make right and timely decisions
- Telemedicine: telemedicine services are the most widely utilized clinical application of e-health.
2. Non-Clinical E-Health
It includes services from a health organization other than patient care. Different aspects of application of non-clinical e-health include:
- Electronic Health Data: data related to patient care are stored systematically in electronic media which is useful to retrieve in future. Computerized data storage helps a physician to make clinical decisions using the data in the future and it supports effective patient care.
- Mobile Health: Computerized mobile devices like computers, mobile phones, smartwatches etc., can be used for the collection, storage of health related data of patients which can be easily shared to and from the healthcare institute.
What Are Telemedicine Services?
The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to telemedicine as ‘healing from a distance’ and has defined telemedicine as the use of technologies like telecommunications and information systems to provide health services to patients who are at a remote place from the health institution. Using this system of technology, a physician diagnoses and gives advice for treatment to a patient who is not physically present with the doctor. In this system, information is transmitted to and fro via devices and technologies like digital imaging, mobile phones, data monitoring, smartphone apps, interactive voice response technologies, fax, audio-conferencing, mobile broadband, fixed-line broadband and mobile diagnostics telephone calls and video consultations. The most important devices used by telemedicine are mobile phones and computers.
The term telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably for the delivery of health care services by physicians to individuals at distance by the use of ICT tools. Telemedicine is that branch of E-health in which distance barriers are eliminated with the ICT tools.
The telemedicine includes multiple approaches like:
- Health care services including diagnostic and treatment advice.
- Health care services at different levels like primary, secondary and tertiary.
- Public health awareness.
Following are the chief components of telemedicine:
- Interactive Medicine – It is also known as real-time telemedicine. It allows real time communication between a patient and a physician so that information is shared bidirectional.
- Store and Forward Telemedicine – This component of telemedicine is also known as asynchronous telemedicine. It allows a practitioner to share health information of the patient with a practitioner in another location easily so that planning of management can be done.
- Remote Patient Monitoring – This part of telemedicine allows a doctor to monitor and follow up the patient who resides in his/her own residence using mobile medical devices to collect data
Use Of Telemedicine Services At Present
The mobility restrictions, physical distancing and practices like lock-down as a result of alarm of the global COVID-19 pandemic, increased the utility and importance of technologies like networks and the internet. This dreadful situation increased the use of telemedicine and e-health to a great extent. Patients who were unable to visit their physicians due the fear of being infected with COVID-19 on the one hand and imposed mobility restrictions by the government on the other, used the tools of telemedicine like video, audio and other others for receiving health care facilities.
The trust on telemedicine has also increased during the period of this one year as shown by the increased percentage of telemedicine users. The proportion of the population using telemedicine in the United States before the pandemic was only 11% which has now increased by 50% during the pandemic.
There multiple benefits of telemedicine some of which are summarized as:
i. Use of telemedicine helps in achieving easier, cost-effective and convenient health care services.
ii. It helps in controlling infectious illness especially in remote areas.
iii. Patient can be better assessed in his/her family environment.
iv. Patients can get feeling family connections when they are examined at their own home.
v. Patients with chronic conditions can achieve easier follow up care.