Since its birth in the 1960s, when NASA monitored the vital signs of its astronauts during space missions, telemedicine was a known reality growing in the health market. Thanks to different media and the internet, its growth has been exponential.
Telemedicine has been developed in several branches of the healthcare industry. Not only is it focused on remote patient care, as has been the case in different countries due to the centralization of services, or by populations in remote places with limited health resources, but it is available to anyone who would rather have a telehealth appointment versus visiting a clinic. It also ensures better management and direct transmission of communication and information. It is constantly changing, dictated by technological advances and the socioeconomic and health context.
In recent months, telemedicine has become the solution to remotely deliver care to many patients to avoid an overflow at healthcare centers. Reports from McKinsey & Co show a 50 to 175-fold increase in patient volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and a study conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA), 75% of common diseases can be treated with telemedicine. Additionally, this service has increased by around 46% in Latin America, according to a survey of "global medical trends", organized by the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.
By utilizing telemedicine services, patients will have access to:
- Telehealth consultations: for remote diagnosis or treatment monitoring, as well as telemonitoring for control in chronic patients. Both reduce hospital stays.
Administrative management of patients: services such as laboratory tests and billing for services.
Remote education for professionals: will provide guides, evidence guidelines, semiology, and even clinical material in an interactive way.
Collaborative research and evaluation: to inform, share and disseminate cases, studies, and experiences.
We see it as a tool to improve efficiency, as it offers multiple benefits while allowing us to rethink health services to optimize resources, coordinate, and share remote resources.
However, there are also obstacles to consider when applying a transformation of this type:
Technological: lack of skills, infrastructure, and coverage. Differences in information systems in internal applications not compatible for interconnection. The security, confidentiality, and protection of the data.
Organizational: lack of strategic alignment between different participants in the project, redistribution of responsibilities and roles, change of the care model, and distribution of responsibilities.
The human factor: personal disposition and resistance to change, lack of sense of belonging to the project, few skills in the field of information, prejudices about telemedicine, preference for the routine and known environment, different interests, concerns, and priorities of the people involved.
Economic factors: expenses in the implementation and sustainability of the project. As telemedicine is not included in the portfolio of administration services, it lacks a well-defined economic framework. The lack of scientific evidence on the clinical and economic benefits of utilizing telemedicine also presents a challenge.
Multiple advantages of a system focused on health management
Through telemedicine, it is possible for health professionals to be present on the front line to attend more quickly and efficiently to people who need face-to-face care, and to leave space to focus resources and efforts on research, training, and supplier evaluation. All actions call for the advancement of the health of the population and entire communities through:
Accessibility and equity in health care
Savings in diagnoses: avoid duplication of exams
Greater effectiveness and lower costs when referring patients
Collaborative work between teams of clinical professionals
Reduction in time for making therapeutic decisions
Promotes continuity of care
Decrease in diagnostic and therapeutic errors
Improved efficiency of health services
The use of innovative technologies ends up lowering costs and collaborating with connectivity with doctors and specialists. Among them, clinical information can be exchanged and streamlined to carry out studies, diagnoses, disease treatments, and medical check-ups in real-time.
However, there are disadvantages or factors that apply:
The comparison of a remote physical exam is not comparable to a face-to-face one.
Internet connection problems or telephone signal.
Patient confidentiality, and data handling problems.
Ethical-legal implications (relevant in developed countries)
Low access to ICT in populations that need it.
Little training for its use.
Feeling of loss of professional responsibility.
It requires time to adapt and change the doctor / patient relationship model.
Requires specific resources.
High costs in technology and implementation.
Requires a cultural change in a sector of the population.
Telemedicine as a main part of eHealth
According to R.E. Scott, in the publication “Framework for the Implementation of a Telemedicine Service”, telemedicine is an essential part of and is synonymous with eHealth, a term that has contributed to a better understanding of the transformation of health.
Health informatics: Integration of information networks, electronic medical records, and history systems, associated with services to collect, analyze, and distribute information related to the health of each patient.
Telehealth and telemedicine: Direct or indirect interaction with patients and other health care providers.
E-learning: Through ICT, learning and education opportunities are offered to professionals, health providers, and citizens.
Electronic commerce: hospital information systems allow the control of the services provided to patients and their associated costs, as well as administrative information.
Currently, in Mexico, there are more than 818 health centers that have telemedicine technology with the focus of being able to attend appointments remotely. However, the objective is to develop a national telemedicine network where the various levels of care are linked (primary, secondary, and highly complex) in order to increase capacity and reach the standard established by the World Health Organization (WHO): at least three doctors for every 1,000 inhabitants.
The comprehensive telemedicine system of Social Security has a reference network that involves more than 30 medical specialties (Surgery, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Gyno-obstetrics, Psychiatry, Dermatology, Neurology, Ophthalmology, and Cardiology, among others).
Telemedicine is just the beginning
This is what ACF pointed out on our healthcare page, and this sector should include various solutions that facilitate the management of professionals and improve the levels of care and accuracy with patients. Appointment scheduling, self-registration, BPM process management, wayfinding, digital signage, real-time feedback, and artificial intelligence.
These processes offer uncomplicated experiences that benefit both patients and medical professionals, as well as administration staff.
From remote care to a real connection to health
It is this evolution that leads us to think about expansion. Change in and around telemedicine is not only achieved through a video call but also in its global operability, where research and communication are part of a plan that allows a more fluid administrative and service management. One that enables better decision-making, supports distance training and counseling and develops collaborative work between health professionals.
Telemedicine can become an empowering tool for patients when facing their own disease since through it they can be better informed, have access to their medical history, and request a second opinion.
Some of the technology used includes:
Network platforms, applications, and media or news websites.
Equipment and applications for communication, videoconferencing, video chat, video calls, and virtual rooms.
Internet of things, home automation, and machine–to–machine communication.
Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), to implement medical robots and virtual robots for robotic or remote surgery. 4G and 5G networks will be used for high-speed connections.
Further, telemedicine has improved through constant innovation such as:
- Imaging (high-quality video) and transmission of voice, data, and medical images.
- Automation of online medical consultations.
- Big data analysis to identify patterns.
- AI and Machine Learning can offer symptom classification, possible diagnosis assistance, and treatment suggestions.
- Remote monitoring of patients to measure vitals.
From the present to the future
Studies by Mordor Intelligence, a market research agency, indicated that Telemedicine is growing in both public and private sectors. It is estimated that the growth in 2021 amounted to 75,000 million dollars worldwide by the end of the year.
Medical advances in 2021 showed trends toward consolidation and digital transformation in the health sector due to the integration and analytics of clinical records in interconnected platforms. Thus transforming data analysis into useful information for decision making and the development of products and services such as medical technology for remote monitoring.
There is a whole field of possibilities to explore and promote as there are already specialties related to the digital world in teleconsultations and video calls. There are other primary care specialties (general medicine, pediatrics) that hardly develop their services remotely because, although they have good communication with patients, they either don't know all the benefits achieved by using telemedicine or they don't know where to start.
The global eHealth market will reach a value of 113 trillion dollars by 2025
Telemedicine will be part of endless opportunities, 2021 closed with more than 400 million virtual medical visits around the world, this corresponds to a turnover of more than 525 million dollars. And the virtual dating market will reach 800 million dollars.
Likewise, in the case of Latin America, the telemedicine market is valued at more than 1.5 billion US dollars and will grow more than 20.5% annually between 2020 and 2026, a behavior driven by the pandemic, but which will transcend it.
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