Telemedicine, the use of modern technology to facilitate medical diagnosis and treatment without actual in-person contact between doctor and patient, has been around for some time. Then, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has truly proliferated, as medical staff and patients alike saw the need to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Perhaps you have had the experience lately of using a computer or smartphone interface to participate in a telemedicine appointment.
Medicine has always used technology as it becomes available. Advances in physics have lead to increasingly sophisticated diagnostic imaging tools. Advances in biochemistry have brought about better, more detailed analysis of bodily functions, and of course new medicines. Communication between doctor and patient, though, has throughout most of history, involved in- person examination.
To participate in a telemedicine appointment more technology is needed than just the communication devices. Patients need scales, blood pressure devices, and thermometers to report their vital signs. Often pre-visit blood work will have already been done at a lab, which does involve an in-person visit. Some, for example, diabetic and cardiac patients, have diagnostic streaming devices which can send real time information to a patient’s smartphone, as well as directly to their doctor.
Telemedicine has advantages for both doctor and patient. For doctors there are the perks of sometimes being able to work from home, and less need for office space and staffing. There is also less personal exposure to contagious disease. Patients as well benefit from this reduced exposure. They also have the time saving advantages of no driving and no time spent in office waiting rooms. If the doctor is delayed for some reason, a patient can go about other activities rather than spending useless wait time at the doctor’s office. Telemedicine is especially advantageous for homebound patents, those lacking transportation, and those who live in rural areas where access to health care is less widely available.
A prime example of the value of this technology is the case in which a referral is made to an out-of-area specialist. Reason for referral, medical history, current blood work, X-rays, MRIs, and other scans can all be transmitted to the doctor, and a remote appointment arranged. If further tests are needed, these can be ordered to be done local to the patient. When surgery is recommended, pre-op clearances, COVID-19 testing if required, and changes to medication can also be handled locally. Preoperative contact with the distant hospital for clarification of their procedures and requirements can also be arranged. The patient then only needs to travel for the actual surgery. Postoperative follow-up is also a telemedicine appointment. Physical therapy, chemotherapy, or other ongoing treatments required, can be initiated in the patient’s locale.
The increased use of telemedicine during the pandemic has introduced more and more people to this technique. Many have found that they like the convenience of this kind of appointment. In-person doctor’s visits will continue to be necessary. Sometimes the personal touch of a doctor can detect things that the technology as yet cannot. Telemedicine, however, has proved itself effective, and will continue to be an important part of patient care.
Kathi is a retired elementary school science lab teacher. She spends her time volunteering at a CareNet pregnancy center, teaching Sunday school, playing handbells, and singing in her church choir.
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