As technology continues to rapidly change our lives, it is important we understand how telemedicine is changing healthcare and how it will shape the future. Telemedicine has started to affect our personal lives in that it impacts how we engage with healthcare providers. It is also affecting the professional lives of healthcare workers, where tasks and career opportunities are changing and expanding. Let’s unpack the concept of telemedicine and how it is changing healthcare.
What Is Telemedicine?
You may have heard the terms telemedicine and telehealth, but what do they mean? Telemedicine is a general term for using technology to communicate with patients and healthcare workers when not in the same room. For example, a doctor may be in one location, but virtually seeing and attending to patients who are in other locations via camera, telephones, and other and technical equipment.
According to Harvard Health, “Telehealth is defined as the delivery of health care services at a distance through the use of technology. It can include everything from conducting medical visits over the computer to monitoring patients’ vital signs remotely.”
There are different types of telemedicine. Here are the two most common:
Asynchronous – When a healthcare provider reviews a patient’s digital medical history and information, without live interaction with the patient.
Synchronous – When a healthcare provider has virtual, live interaction with the patient.
An important distinction is to be made between telemedicine and telehealth as the terms are often used interchangeably but they are not the same. “The Health Resources and Services Administration distinguishes telehealth from telemedicine in its scope, defining telemedicine only as describing remote clinical services, such as diagnosis and monitoring, while telehealth includes preventative, promotive, and curative care delivery. This includes the above-mentioned non-clinical applications, like administration and provider education.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services states that the term telehealth includes “non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education”, and that the term telemedicine means “remote clinical services”.
Why Does Telemedicine Matter?
Telemedicine is an important shift in how healthcare is delivered because it potentially gives a chance for more access to healthcare. In our article on Health Advocacy, we discussed some of the barriers to healthcare access and the grave need in the United States to bridge the massive gap in health disparities across vulnerable populations. An example of how telemedicine can bridge such a gap is patients who live in areas with few healthcare providers can still be seen by providers via telemedicine appointments.
But like everything, telemedicine can have its downsides. Many are not fond of the lack of in-person care and worry that the future will be all digitized and that we’ll lose the importance of in-person human touch and attention.
Telemedicine and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In our article on Artificial Intelligence (AI), we explored how healthcare is being impacted by the rapid development of robotics and machine learning. But there are overlaps and distinctions between telemedicine/health and AI. Some of the technology used in telemedicine is AI-driven, but some is not. Cameras and telephones, for example, are not AI. Whereas robotic arms guided or supervised by a surgeon in another room/location may have AI components.
Careers and Opportunities in Telemedicine
Here are just a few of the career possibilities in this growing field:
*Telemedicine Medical Assistant
*Telehealth Operations Manager
*Telemedicine Psychiatric Clinician
*Virtual Care Specialist
Telemedicine will impact your life personally and possibly professionally if you work in healthcare. Understanding telemedicine can help increase awareness around what is happening in your own healthcare and if you work in healthcare or plan to do so. It may also help you navigate a healthcare careeer and be open to the numerous possibilities as our world continues to be impacted by technological advancements.