At its most basic, telemedicine means the remote treatment and diagnosis of patients through the use of telecommunications technology like the phone, or video chat software like Skype. Through the use of two way video of phone, there is a growing number of services that are being made available to doctors and patients who chose to communicate in this manner. As a result, the industry is expanding in the United States.
Telemedicine holds a great deal of potential in decreasing wait times and increasing patient load. At the same time, by separating the patient from the doctor, telemedicine is seen as removing the most important thing of all, the human component. As a result, it remains a divisive issue.
Lets take a moment to consider the pros and cons of telemedicine.
What Are the Pros of Telemedicine?
Along with the American Telemedicine Association, there is a great deal of support for the growing telemedicine industry. Whether by corporate sponsorship or success stories, there are a number of reasons why individuals prefer telemedicine over standard visits.
1. A Range Of Services Can Be Provided
Telemedicine allows for a range of services to be provided without the patient ever having to leave their home. These services include primary care and specialist referral services, remote patient monitoring, consumer medical and health information, and medical education. As the range of potential services continue to grow, telemedicine is being seen as a way to provide direct care for those who need it while inconveniencing them as little as possible.
2. Saves Time and Money
Telemedicine is seen as a less expensive option. Instead of going into the doctors office, waiting for the doctor, and then seeing them directly, telemedicine removes all the intermediary steps and allows individuals to communicate directly with the doctor. Because there is less infrastructure involved, the total cost of the video or telephone visit is significantly reduced, saving the patient money as a result. In addition, by not having to commute and wait, the patient saves a great deal of time that can be used for other things.
3. Increases Volume
By being able to communicate with individuals directly, it is suggested that telemedicine will allow doctors to see more people. By seeing more people, the total price of services associated with the doctor may decrease as a result of the increased volume. The end result is that all patients save a little.
4. Improved Access
By being able to call or video with your doctor, you dramatically improve your access to your doctor and the information he can provide for you. Because information is easy to relate over a video or telephone call, telemedicine can be used to make the patient better informed about their treatments, as well as answer any questions they may be having regarding their treatment.
What Are the Cons of Telemedicine?
There are a number of policy experts, doctors, and patients that raise concerns when it comes to telemedicine. From practical application to faulty technology, these cons point towards how telemedicine can fail in its current stage.
1. An Impersonal Environment
While some argue that telemedicine ensures a personal environment by having the patient in the comfort of their own home and the doctor in his/her office, others argue that the lack of human contact is impersonal. There is something reassuring about being in the direct care of a doctor, which is lost over the video feed. This personable environment is necessary for some individuals to divulge problems they may be having. The concern then becomes that because of telemedicine, there are a number of conditions that are going unreported.
2. A Lack of Personal Examination
Physical examinations are more then just visual observation. They sometimes involve touching parts of the body, hearing the body move, and even smelling the person. These are all lost over telemedicine. While a patient can be asked to poke a particular part of their body to test if something is amiss, a doctor will be able to do it with a much higher degree of certainty. In addition, it may be challenging for a doctor to convince a patient as to the right course of action when separated by a video.
3. Problems in Technology
Previous, we talked about how telemedicine helps with primary care and specialist referrals, remote patient monitoring, consumer medicine and health, and medical education. However, the moment there is any problem with the hardware and software used to facilitate this communication, the conversation ends. Whether the fault of the patient, the doctor, or those in the hospital in charge of maintaining the technology, a loss of communication can end conversations and stop conversations from even taking place at all.
The pros an cons of telemedicine depend heavily on the current level of technology and progress of telemedicine as a tool to provide medical help. As these two factors continue to change, so to will the debate on telemedicine.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.