It is a bit hard to write about the future of a technology that yet to be fully implemented in the present. Even now as caregivers and healthcare adopt telemedicine and its remote monitoring capabilities, the premise of a doctor’s face appearing on a video screen and treating you from a remote location is still…well…futuristic. It just so happens that the changes brought about by telemedicine are rapid revealing themselves, so much so that the future is forcing us to look at it.
More than 2,000 studies have been conducted researching telemedicine. Let’s have a quick look at the results:
The bottom line is that patients and caregivers alike are reporting increased satisfaction with treatments that utilized telehealth technologies. Telehealth is here to stay. So what about the future?
The future of telemedicine will depend on three things:
People are still reacting to this technology at the individual, organizational and societal levels. Just talking big picture, looming shortages of both doctors and nurses are forcing the industrialized world to look at technology-enabled healthcare. The sorts of technological developments that must be watched for are in mobile communications, sensor devices and nanotechnology.
The road leading to the future of telemedicine is definitely taking form. Key stops along the route can be spotted from the present. Expect these features to prominent:
Just consider ‘teleradiology’. X-rays have been transmitted from facility to facility for fast use and analysis for more than four decades. In terms of medical imaging, telehealth is already a standard of care. By now, CT scans and MRI results are shared along with other information between medical practitioners separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles. This kind of sharing is becoming the norm. It goes without saying that it will eventually have to be addressed by the regulations that govern healthcare at the state and federal levels.
So far, the most common method of payment for telemedicine has been reimbursement. This may have worked when healthcare was solely provided by independent physicians and institutions. Today, modern professionals are governed by accountable care organizations and managed care groups. Nearly a quarter of the population is accounted for by managed care. That’s seventy million patients. The decision makers will end up operating at greater distances from patients. This will necessitate the transmission of medical data to a degree that its cost will simply have to be absorbed into the “overhead” of medical expenses, rather than be treated as a reimbursable.
While we’re talking roads, we should mention infrastructure. Use of telemedicine across national borders used to be fairly rare because the infrastructure simply did not exist. The means to transmit data across worldwide networks now thrives. International regulations are now familiar with telemedicine. Sure, obstacles include cultural bias, trade policies, payment schemes, technology standards, and international certifications and regulations, but the profit potential alone is enough to overcome each and every one. Lead healthcare providers will iron out the last of them and ensure that international medicine become a common practice.
Based on what we already know about how medical care and information is being transmitted, it has to be a foregone conclusion that telemedicine already has its hooks in mobile technology. In fact, there is already a term: mHealth. Mobile Health means that practitioners and patients alike can receive medical information via their phones. This application, while blazing with potential, is truly the frontier in terms of telemedicine’s journey.
A more common model offered when describing telemedicine would be the nursing home patient being treated by a remote specialist in order to prevent hospital re-admission. In order to see the future of telemedicine, you simply must broaden your scope. Currently, Mercy Hospitals has established a virtual care center in Missouri intended to serve a four-state area. The idea is to distribute the value of centralized specialists across a wider geographic area. If you still don’t get the picture, imagine 122 ICU beds located all over the state of Virginia, accessible by intensivists thanks to telemedicine facilities owned by Innova Health Systems.
Psychiatry, neurology, dermatology and stroke care are all specializations awaiting the decentralizing effects of telemedicine. Good old teleradiology has now found its way onto smartphones. The application can transmit medical images that allow doctors to properly assess stroke patients in secluded areas. By only pressing a few buttons, they can scan their patients’ brains in 2D and 3D formats, while on the go. Those same doctors may replace their clipboards with tablets. The future of healing is telemedicine.