The tantalizing premise of telemedicine has always been to provide a more convenient and accessible means of delivering healthcare, to patients who were unable or unwilling to make in-person office visits with their doctor. For a long time, however, the very exciting appeal of telemedicine had to be regarded as a futuristic and somewhat implausible aspect of healthcare. With advances in communications and mobile devices having already been achieved, and with the promise of even greater achievements on the horizon, the implausibility factor has been eliminated, and the future factor has been re-cast as the present. In short, telemedicine has arrived.
The statistical evidence for the arrival of telemedicine is startling to say the least, with some extremely impressive numbers having been achieved in a very short time frame. Almost 90% of healthcare executives in this country are now of the opinion that telemedicine will completely transform this country’s healthcare system within the next decade.
As recently as 2013, there were only 350,000 telemedicine patients globally, but as of 2018 that number has soared to more than 7 million. The value of the global telemedicine market, which hovered around $13 billion in 2013, is expected to rise to about $64 billion globally by 2022. US companies stand to benefit tremendously, as well as patients receiving care under the telemedicine system, since it is expected that companies in this country will soon begin to realize a total savings of $6 billion annually.
What Telemedicine Brings to the Table
So why exactly is telemedicine so much more cost-efficient and yet still effective, as compared to regular in-person doctor office visits? By using existing technology for audio and video communications between doctor and patient, telemedicine can facilitate real-time patient consultations, and remote monitoring of medical conditions and vital signs of patients, who can literally be located anywhere that has an Internet connection.
Critical health information can be stored and forwarded for eventual analysis and diagnosis in electronic health records, and a wealth of medical information can be related to caregivers and patients in greater numbers than would ever be possible via doctor visits. Even specialized services can be delivered remotely via telemedicine, for instance tele-psychiatry, tele-pharmacy, and tele-dentistry. The fact that all these services can be provided regardless of the patient’s physical location, is a key factor which is expected to literally transform the healthcare industry.
One Example of a Telemedicine Physician Network
A number of companies have sprung up around the country to provide specialized telemedicine services for connecting doctors, patients, and healthcare organizations. A good example is the very exciting model provided by Encore Telemedicine, a member company of the American Telemedicine Association, and which already facilitates upwards of 25,000 encounters each month between patients and medical personnel. The company has an expansive physician network which is 500-strong and growing, with sessions being arranged virtually around-the-clock. With little or no waiting time, patients wishing to consult or be treated by a highly qualified physician, can be served promptly and effectively.
In the case of Encore Telemedicine, healthcare organizations are connected directly with appropriate tele-health providers, who wish to become involved with online patient consultations. Healthcare organizations can thus reach a great many more patients and lower the cost of care provided, by avoiding the relatively expensive cost of in-person visits. Highly credentialed medical professionals with a wide variety of specialties can be connected with various types of health organizations, so that effective telemedicine programs can be conducted. The net result is that better healthcare is delivered to more patients, especially those who normally don’t have ready access to medical professionals.
The Future of Telemedicine
There is no longer any reason to think about the potential for telemedicine, or what might be achievable – it’s all happening right now, and it’s going to continue happening until the entire healthcare industry is re-shaped, right before our eyes. All the old arguments against telemedicine and the reasons for not jumping on the bandwagon, have been effectively eliminated by technology improvements, and by a rapidly changing culture in the medical field.
Most medical professionals now see the tremendous advantages offered by telemedicine, and their thinking is now in alignment with all the supporters and advocates of telemedicine. Patient care will be delivered in a more convenient and accessible manner than has ever been possible in the past, and on a scale that many thought impossible just a decade ago.
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