Telemedicine: Is there a doctor in your browser?


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
By Danny Murphy
Every year there are tremendous advancements in science and medicine. One arena that is taking off like a rocket to the moon is Telemedicine. Just a couple of years ago Telemedicine was often referred to as a novel idea that wasn’t quite practical. Well babe, all that has changed. Today doctors and insurance companies are starting to embrace Telemedicine, partially because of the rising cost of healthcare and partially because it is practical. In this article about Telemedicine, we will explore just how quickly doctors are adding this tool to their medicine chest and how it will affect you the consumer of modern day medicine. So read on and learn from this week’s Working the Web to win as we explore - Telemedicine: Is There a Doctor in your Browser?
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines telemedicine as the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.
Telemedicine is changing the way healthcare is being delivered. A long time ago, before most of the baby boomers were born, doctors went on housecalls where they actually made visits to the homes of their patients to check them out. Things changed. Whenever possible, patients would go to the doctor’s office for checkups and issues that didn’t require visits to the emergency room or to the hospital.  Since doctors didn’t have to spend time on the road getting to and from patients’ homes, it was much more efficient for them. It enabled them to interact with many more patients in a shorter period of time. Through Telemedicine, the housecall is making a big comeback.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
NASA was at the forefront of the Telemedicine movement. When NASA began sending astronauts into space, they needed a way to deal with medical situations that could come up. It wouldn’t be possible to send a doctor to see a patient in space, nor would it be possible for a patient to return from space quickly for an office visit.
“In situations where a quick return to Earth was not possible, the ability to not only monitor biometric data, but also to engage at least rudimentary guided medical treatment by non-physicians was critical: if a medical emergency arose, astronauts would have only their crewmates to accurately diagnose them.” A Brief History of NASA’s Contributions to Telemedicine
Along these same lines, war was also an impetus for the evolution and development of Telemedicine. During any battle situation, it is imperative to keep soldiers alive and get them well as soon as possible. Armies have limited numbers of Doctors, and even though they have medics in the field, the U.S. Army felt that Telemedicine would be a great way to improve the survivability of their soldiers in the field. In the early nineties, just before the invention of the internet, the Army tested using radio and microwave telemetry to achieve Telemedicine. The internet was a giant step forward towards making Telemedicine a reality.
Telemedicine has evolved. Doctors are increasingly connecting with patients via the Internet. This allows patients to receive personalized care without driving to the doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room. Also, robots are now being used in situations where physical examinations are needed. Instead of visiting a doctor’s office, patients can visit their doctor’s robot’s office. Doctors can see patients all over the world without leaving their offices. One company, iRobot, has created a robot which combines autonomous navigation and mobility with Telemedicine technology from InTouch Health. It’s called InTouch Vita.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Prescriptions
Patients can order prescriptions online. Unfortunately, there are thousands of websites that sell illegal and counterfeit drugs. They operate out of compliance with US pharmacy laws and standards of practice. Some distributors don’t even require a valid prescription. Many of the drugs being sold online have not even approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
When you order drugs online, it’s hard to be certain that you’re getting what you’re paying for. Organized crime networks have been switching from dealing in illicit drugs to manufacturing and distributing fake pharmaceuticals. The penalties are far less if they are caught and the profits are as good or better.
The Patient’s Perspective
Telemedicine is a very convenient way for patients to find all sorts of information. Patients can now check a doctor’s malpractice history and look at reviews by patients who have seen him or her. Patients can also go to websites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and many others to see what conditions their symptoms might be associated with.
Some people diagnose themselves. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re not. One thing people should remember is that those of us who have not been educated and trained as doctors should not pretend that we are doctors. Without the rigorous study that is required to become a doctor, people don’t have the breadth of knowledge that doctors have. 
People have been known to read about a rare side effect of a medication they have been taking and, without consulting their doctor, discontinue it. For a patient to take things into his or her own hands that way can be dangerous.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The Practitioner’s Perspective.
In addition to the convenience of Telemedicine for patients and practitioners, another factor that may be driving the growth in Telemedicine is the economics of it. The cost of setting up a portal to interact with patients is much lower than maintaining office space and paying employees to run it. A Teleconsultation where patients and doctors have the opportunity to ask questions and get answers can be very effective for dealing with many health concerns.
Home Healthcare is experiencing phenomenal growth and Telemedicine is one of the ways doctors are providing healthcare to patients in the comfort of the patients’ own homes. Doctors are using technology in some very interesting ways. For example, there is a tiny device that can be added to a pill which sends out a signal when the pill has been digested. The purpose is to make sure patients are taking their meds.
In addition to connecting with patients, doctors are also connecting with other medical professionals. There are now social networks that cater to doctors. One prominent social network for the medical industry called MedMasters.com.  The MedMasters website says, “By combining the best features of social media and professional networking with that of traditional job boards and lead sourcing, we are the natural evolution of the career management and fulfillment process.” This network provides a searchable database of doctors, nurses, medical IT providers, medical recruiters and pharmaceutical sales representatives.
Courtesy Wikipedia
What we can look forward to?
An increasing number of people are turning to the Internet for everything from diagnosis to treatment options.  Doctors are using Telemedicine for everything from consultation to Telesurgery.   For those of us who lead active lives, turning to the virtual doctor can save time and money. For people who have difficulty getting around, Telemedicine can be especially helpful. It can also produce good health outcomes.
Doctors have begun using a new class of artificially intelligent computers to diagnose problems.  IBM’s Watson, which became famous by beating the world’s best human players on Jeopardy, was repurposed to serve the healthcare industry. Watson can compare millions of bits of data to make a diagnosis.  Also, since Watson is cloud-based, it is available 24/7 anywhere in the world.
Telemedicine technologies are changing people’s lives. In the future, new applications will be developed which will increase the capabilities of doctors to serve their patients using Telemedicine.
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In this article I have discussed Telemedicine, how it was developed, and how the use of it is increasing. I’ve discussed the history of Telemedicing, ordering drugs, and how doctors interact with patients through Telemedicine.
If you liked this article, share it with your friends, family and co-workers. Working the Web to Win has previously produced several blogs about Telemedicine. For more information, I recommend reading, New Advances in Telemedicine - Taking Your Medicine Online, and The Doc in the Box. 
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Danny Murphy is the Lead Blogger at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also the author of Humor 101: How to Tell Jokes for Power, Prestige, Profit, and Personal Fulfillment which is available from Amazon on Kindle.Bottom of Form

1 comment:

  1. A mouse of protection is worth a pound of cure. If you hate sitting for hours in a doctor's waiting room, you need to read Danny's blog.

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