What is Telemedicine?
Using modern means of communication to provide remote medical help is no longer a fantasy. Telemedicine turns into a tool for effective treatment before our eyes and, no exaggeration, saves lives. Despite the widespread belief that telemedicine is a new phenomena which is still rarely used in practice, its history began in the days of telegraphs, long before personal computers were invented. Actually, phone consultations can also be attributed to telemedicine. At the same time, the first videoconference as a telemedicine tool was conducted in 1965. It was a live broadcast of a surgery, assisted by an outstanding heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, to replace the aortic valve with an artificial heart.
Main Fields of Telemedicine
Obviously, the thing under discussion includes a very wide range of tasks and solutions. In general, they are divided into two large categories: “doctor-patient” and “doctor-doctor”. In practice, there are many fields of telemedicine, which can be grouped according to their specialization. The main fields today include:
- Telemedicine consultations for patients
- Remote biomonitoring
- Emergency consultations for doctors
- Surgery broadcasts
- Distance learning and advanced training
There are other categories, but for a general understanding of the technology and its capabilities, it is enough to examine these four, which in fact are the main ones today. Each of them should be explained separately.
In telemedicine, remote consultations and patient diagnostics are considered the most common and popular services. With the help of specialized videoconference systems, a full-fledged audiovisual contact is established between the consulting physician, his assistant and the patient, during which they can not only see and hear each other, but also exchange graphic and textual data (for example, patient’s x-ray can be shown to the doctor, and doctor’s license to the patient).
This approach is extremely convenient in all respects. For a long time, consulting telemedicine has been positioned as a means of obtaining medical services in areas where there is no point or possibility to keep a hospital or a certain specialist. For instance, a villager doesn’t have to travel to the capital city in order to be examined by a certain doctor when it is possible to contact this expert via video conference at a convenient time. However, this is a rather narrow approach.
Today, inhabitants of large cities who don’t have the time to make medical appointments, monitor their health properly, much less wait in queues, are using telemedicine more frequently. With the help of special mobile apps, you can find an available specialist at any time of the day. The application itself may suggest who is the best expert in a particular field, and which doctor is available right now and is ready to listen to you and assist you. Theoretically, in the future such search can be carried out around the world. Soon, however, you won’t even have to make a call; the doctors themselves will know about your problems even before you. Here we come to the next field in the development of telemedicine…
Remote monitoring systems are used by medical professionals to monitor patient’s health status. This requires special telemedicine equipment with which the doctor can help his patient from a distance. Very often remote monitoring is used to monitor older people who are not able to independently perform all the necessary therapeutic manipulations. Home telemedicine is especially important for patients who need regular, immediate examinations (for example, for people with heart diseases).
At the same time, the development of microelectronics, mobile broadband Internet access and special software brings telemedicine to a new level. Internet of Things (IoT) has proved to be a useful technology in this field too. As a result, today it is possible not only to monitor the condition of a sick person, but also to diagnose potential problems in a currently healthy person.
Many people are already used to wear miniature sensors on their bodies. In particular, there are various fitness trackers and other devices of this kind. Potentially, they can not only consolidate the data on your sporting achievements, but also analyze important biometric parameters and draw conclusions about the actual state of your body, and in case of potential danger give an alarm signal to you or your doctor.
How can a system know if a person’s health is at risk? The mentioned IoT and Big Data processing systems have to be applied for a solution. In a very simplified way: a huge number of wearable biometric sensors can transmit data about the health of various people to a centralized cloud. The received information is processed there to make conclusions, which are then used in telemedicine systems. Moreover, information is provided anonymously: for example, the physical parameters of a person (gender, age, pulse dynamics, etc.) are known to the system, but not the data that allows personal identification. On the basis of the collected statistics, conclusions are drawn to detect the earliest symptoms of diseases. And if they are observed in a person with a biometric sensor, he or she would be advised to contact a healthcare professional.
Emergency consultations for doctors
Complex medical cases occur everywhere, and in some situations doctors need help of their more experienced colleagues. For example, the local hospital may lack a specialist of relevant qualification, but in the capital city there is a doctor who can handle the situation. At the same time, it is impossible or impractical (because of the distance) to transport the patient to another hospital, and the specialist will not travel a few hundred kilometers to treat the patient. In this case, an urgent video call session can provide a solution, helping to get the necessary advice as quickly as possible.
Emergency medical consultation may also be necessary for people at such remote objects as offshore oil rigs or long-distance ships. In this case, ensuring stable work over relatively slow satellite communication channels plays a special role for the telemedicine system.
Surgery broadcast is a specific scope of telemedicine that is impossible to ignore. This field of telemedicine is used for the so-called “telementorship”, when beginners or inexperienced surgeons observe a surgery conducted by a highly qualified specialist. Unlike watching recorded videos, during a video conference the participants can ask questions at the time of or immediately after the surgery, to get detailed explanations and analyze complicated situational moments.
During the surgery, specialists can transmit images from various medical equipment (microscopes, endoscopes, etc).
It is also possible to transmit telemetric information (patient’s pressure state, pulse rate, etc). For a surgeon, experience is at a premium. Medicine today is developing rapidly, and new kinds of surgery, which had not even been thought of before, are becoming available. Videoconferencing tools help to share experience with the professional community of the whole world – easier, faster and more efficiently. We can only guess how many lives were saved due to experience, obtained in a timely manner using this approach.
Advanced doctor training
No less important scope of telemedicine is distance learning. Live broadcasts of medical seminars, conferences and lectures give higher level specialists the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills not only theoretically, but also practically. During the lectures, medical universities can organize video calls with representatives of medical institutions to share their experiences online. Playing an increasing role in educating students, telemedicine is first of all important for experts to share their professional skills, news, discoveries and achievements. Village doctors are unlikely to have the chance to attend a lecture and receive instructions from a world-class expert. However, it is possible thanks to videoconferencing, which allows them not only to see and hear the luminaries of medicine, but, which is extremely important, to ask questions.
Videoconferencing in healthcare
Not every videoconferencing system is suitable for organizing the mentioned services. In order to take full advantage of telemedicine, the technical platform must meet certain requirements. In the first place, stable functioning in multilateral communication mode, high quality and image resolution (especially in the case of surgical operations). The patient’s life may depend on the graphic resolution, color reproduction and clarity of the picture (sometimes “small” details such as the exact blood color or a tiny spot on the X-ray image are decisive). Therefore, an effective video conferencing system for telemedicine should support stable image transmission in 4K format. Modern medical equipment (laparoscopes, etc.) already transmit images in 3D, and even FullHD resolution is not enough to fully utilize it. Therefore, without 4K 3D support, video communication does not make sense in more advanced fields.
Telemedicine and Men’s Health
Medicine has acquired new capabilities through the modern means of communication, and thinking about it one can feel the future is coming. In particular, our usual understanding of medical treatment, with appointments, check-ups, and going to the hospital for getting a prescription, may change already in the nearest future. In most countries, relevant laws have already been introduced so the citizens can receive remote medical advice via the Internet. The field of men’s health is not an exception, and nowadays companies provide comprehensive services which include online diagnosis, treatment plans, drug prescription and delivery.
According to statistics, about 30 million men in US suffer from erectile dysfunction of various degrees. Legally, the so-called ED pills, or medicine for quick elimination of ED symptoms, should be sold by prescription in US, Canada and most other countries. Although many people manage to circumvent the law by purchasing pills in online stores based outside their home country, not everyone is willing to use potentially harmful drugs of unknown origin. In addition, when taking ED medications, it is important to consider your health condition, previous diseases, and current medication, as well as other factors that can affect the treatment.
Of course, erectile dysfunction is only one of the many common health problems that affect specifically men. Premature ejaculation, genital herpes, enlarged prostate, hair loss, etc. often remain an issue for years and create even greater stress while progressing. Telemedicine solutions offer a compromise for those who keeps to postpone their hospital visits forever. What advantages can a patient expect from a telemedicine solution?
- Firstly, it’s time-saving. Sometimes, you need to pay a few visits to the hospital before you can consult the right person. With online services there is no waiting, which is very important considering the level of work pressure experienced by many people nowadays.
- Your health information is processed, stored and transferred in a safe manner. You don’t have to be seen buying Viagra in your local pharmacy, and most services offer discreet packaging when it comes to delivering ED pills and similar products.
- The price for an online consultation is usually much lower than a visit to a local doctor (you can check some prices from the popular websites below). Medicine for ED and premature ejaculation treatment can cost 50-80% less that in a traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacy.
- Finding your expert. Thanks to online consulting services, you can talk to a relevant specialist no matter where you are.
Thus, thanks to telemedicine, today it is possible to order high-quality Viagra or Cialis, get a treatment plan for hair loss, or receive professional help for premature ejaculation treatment without even visiting a doctor.