Telemedicine is starting to revolutionize the healthcare industry. It’s still a relatively new concept, so its definition is somewhat ambiguous and flexible, but most people use telemedicine to describe any healthcare services provided to patients over some form of telecommunications technology, such as online chat, or video streaming.
This may sound futuristic, but it’s already being employed by millions of patients and providers. And even if you’re traditionally minded, and feel you prefer in-person forms of treatment, there are some serious advantages to remote care you can’t afford to ignore.
The Benefits of Remote Care
These are some of the most important benefits of telemedicine and remote care:
- Accessibility. About 74 percent of patients list convenience as their top priority when receiving care, and it’s easy to understand why. If you’re struggling with chronic pain or a chronic condition that makes it hard to move, traveling to and from a medical center can be painful and time-consuming. If you live in a rural or isolated area, it may be even more difficult to get to a facility that can address your needs. Having the ability to instantly connect with a professional means a greater percentage of people will have access to the treatment they need.
- Cost savings. There are still some costs associated with telemedicine, but overall, the cost to the patient as well as to the provider are reduced. The patient won’t have to pay for gas, or an ambulance ride to the hospital, and won’t have to pay extra for a visit to a professional facility (or use of special equipment). Providers may be able to provide services remotely, and won’t have to invest as much time or effort in the treatment process, possibly enabling them to treat multiple patients at once.
- Patient engagement. For treatment options like therapy, patient engagement is essential, and telemedicine allows patients to engage in new and more consistent ways. The in-person one on one won’t be as available, but patients and providers will still be able to hold extended conversations and bond with each other—even over vast distances.
- Real-time and urgent treatment. One of the most important benefits of telemedicine is the ability to respond to and address urgent situations, or unfold treatment in real-time. If you’re experiencing extreme pain, or if you’re uncertain about your own health, visiting a hospital or urgent care center was once your only option. With telemedicine, you may be able to speak to a professional immediately—and discern, with confidence, whether a hospital visit is necessary. This is also important for the fast treatment of injuries onsite.
- Patient dispositions. A recent study shows that patients participating in telemedicine score lower for markers of depression, anxiety, and stress—and end up with 38 percent fewer hospital admissions. This doesn’t necessarily constitute proof that telemedicine is “better” than traditional forms of medicine, but it does show the power that telemedicine can have in making patients more comfortable with their treatment options.
There are a few downsides to telemedicine that you’ll need to bear in mind as well:
- Technical issues. Telemedicine depends on several interdependent technical factors to succeed, including devices and connections on both ends of the conversation. If any individual component gives out, it could compromise the effectiveness or completeness of the treatment. For example, what happens if your broadband connection starts petering out in the middle of an urgent care session?
- Care continuity. Telemedicine often necessitates working with several different providers, from multiple areas. This could lead to a reduced continuity of care, meaning that patient records are harder to find, and providers aren’t able to communicate consistently with one another about the progression and future of treatment.
- Adoption and regulation. Telemedicine is also a relatively new phenomenon, and doesn’t have much regulation surrounding it. This makes it difficult to tell how effective it really is, and if there are other precautions that need to be taken to ensure successful treatment. Adoption may also be a problem; the cost of telemedicine will likely go down when more providers and patients start using it, but currently, populations are somewhat low.
Telemedicine has a somewhat uncertain future, but its many benefits make it a strong option for most individuals. If you’re struggling with a chronic condition, mental health issues, or if you’re living in an isolated area, you should strongly consider incorporating telemedicine treatment into your ongoing care plan.