Origins of Telemedicine
Telemedicine has been around for decades. However, the recent stay at home orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the momentum of use. Interestingly, an 1879 Lancet article discussed the benefits of using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. Additionally, in 1925, the cover of a Science and Innovation magazine depicted a physician treating a patient by radio while envisioning a device which would allow the remote video examination of a patient (Nesbitt, 2012).
Telemedicine Versus Telehealth
Telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably but have slightly different meanings. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) defines telemedicine as the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance. While telehealth has a broader scope and includes both clinical and nonclinical services. What is most important to understand, however, is that telemedicine has the ability to expand health care access to people who might otherwise forgo care or those people who face barriers in getting to a health care clinic.
Widespread Popularity of Telehealth
Telemedicine is growing fast. A recent 2020 Pipslay Survey asked 30,343 Americans about their awareness of telemedicine. It was reported that 77% are aware of it, 46% have personally used it, and 71% have even given positive reviews about their experience. As telemedicine is quickly gaining momentum, it is wise to note that it should not be used as a full replacement for in-person visits, but rather as a tool to make health care more accessible, to enhance patient monitoring, and to build trust with practitioners.
Benefits of Telemedicine
There is a growing need to provide health care services at a distance. Some of the benefits of telemedicine are that it eliminates close contact and the spread of infection, it allows quick access to medical professionals and services anywhere, it is time saving, it is cost effective, it reduces the burden on hospitals and staff, and it leads to increased engagement between doctors and patients.
Considerations for Implementation
When developing a telemedicine program, one must consider marrying digital and/or virtual care with physical care. It is important that the providers trust the system and recommend its use to patients. Considerations to keep in mind when developing a telemedicine program are:
- decide what you are trying to achieve with the telemedicine system
- research available resources
- assess technological needs
- develop a detailed plan for implementation
- implement and test the plan
Above all else, it is important to remember that telemedicine is a process, not a destination.
Security of Health Information
The security of protected health information is key in promoting the use of telemedicine services by patients. When developing a telemedicine system, it is important to make privacy and security top priorities. This can be done by choosing a top of the line technology product and ensuring effective service management of the product, fostering relationships with patients, and being transparent about how their data is collected and used.
Reality of Telehealth
The promise of providing more efficient, less costly, and less risky health care services is no longer a science fiction dream. The availability of technology has brought telemedicine to the forefront of health care delivery. Now that the benefits of telemedicine are widely known, health care providers are being forced to re-examine their approach to care. In the midst of this transformation, nurses have the responsibility and obligation to keep up with these advancements to provide the best care and service to our patients.
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