Telemedicine and benefits for the patient, the physician and the health care facility
Shortening the duration of a visit at a specialist’s office – especially in urgent cases, constant monitoring of patient’s health condition, accumulation of detailed data on the course of disease, optimisation of medical office running costs, increase in facility’s prestige, time savings on part of patients and medical personnel – these are only some of the advantages related to implementation of telemedicine solutions.
Telemedicine combines what is best in medicine (specialist knowledge, good practices, etc.) with the most recent technological achievements. People benefitting from this synergy include patients, who receive help sooner, physicians, who can provide support to more patients, people providing auxiliary medical services (physical therapists, nurses, etc.) and owners and entities that manage medical facilities.
The profits that can be gained by hospitals and medical facilities can be seen on example of the largest integrated health care system in the United States - The Veterans Health Administration. After implementing telemedicine services, VHA recorded a 51% decrease in requests for hospitalisation of people suffering from heart diseases. Moreover, the National Center for Biotechnology Information claims on the basis of the research it carried out that telemedicine means a reduction in the number of hospitalisations by 38%, 31% less readmissions, and shorter hospital stays in 63% of cases.
And what about telemedicine in Poland? The data is promising – so far there have been performed over 150 000 examinations. The publicly available reports indicate that the readiness to take advantage of telemedicine solutions is declared by nearly 60% of Polish patients. The young generation, the so-called millennials, are open to the new forms of health service provision. According to the MedCityNews web portal, 60% of them support the development of telemedicine and 71% would like to book their medical appointments via an application.
Telemedicine in practice – example applications
Depending on the classification criterion adopted, telemedicine can be considered from multiple angles. When considering the medical specialisation, we can talk of telepaediatrics, teleneurology, telecardiology, etc. However, when adopting the criterion of the type of services provided, we receive a more complete and understandable image of how telemedicine solutions can be applied in practice.
1. Teleconsultations – medical appointments via a mobile device
An increasing number of facilities enable consultation with a physician through IT technologies. Some important players on the market, such as Medicover, LuxMed, or Polmed, have already decided to implement such a solution. Additionally, there already exist online medical offices that offer solely this method of consulting a physician. Examples of such solution include the eDoktor24 and Telemedico web portals.
Online outpatient clinics provide assistance to patients who cannot visit a physician for various reasons. Some common ailments do not require the patient to contact a physician in person. In many cases, an interview carried out via videoconferencing is enough to be able to provide accurate diagnosis and implement efficient treatment. During the periods of increased incidence of diseases, the physicians themselves urge patients to stay at home in case of lack of severe symptoms rather than expose themselves to contact with other sick people at overcrowded health care centres.
Remote medical consultations are also advantageous to people suffering from chronic diseases. It is very often that their medical appointments come down to a short exchange of information – questions about current sense of well-being, efficiency of a new medicine or planning the next steps to be taken in the course of treatment. Conducting such appointments via videoconferencing is going to not only save the time of both the patient and the physician, but also reduce queues at the outpatient clinics.
2. Telediagnostics – examination from any place in the world
Distance is less and less of a barrier when it comes to provision of medical services. Telediagnostics is a solution that enables sending the results of an examination performed at one location for interpreting and providing a diagnosis on its basis in another location. Teleradiology is an excellent example of such a service. The simplified process of providing such a service is as follows: the data obtained in the diagnostic imaging process (e.g. x-ray, CT scan, mammography) is sent to a server that is accessed by an authorised radiologist. The physician downloads the files regarding the patient, interprets them and provides a diagnosis. This accelerates the examination interpretation process significantly and reduces the costs related to maintaining a diagnostic imaging department. Additionally, the results of examinations are stored in a secure place where the physician can always access them. However, telediagnostics is not limited to radiology.
This category includes also mobile devices that work by themselves or in combination with a dedicated application for mobile devices. Such devices are used not only by physicians, but by patients as well. Paediatrics may soon be revolutionised by StethoMe - a smart stethoscope for home use. It enables examining the lungs and functioning of the heart, as well as measuring body temperature without participation of a physician. The examination is interpreted by artificial intelligence with the use of advanced algorithms. Thanks to that, it is more accurate than one relying on human hearing. The detailed result of examination is sent to a physician, who determines further treatment directions. On the market there are also present, among others, remote devices for performing foetal cardiotocography. In such case, it is the mother who performs the examination on her own at home and the data collected is sent electronically to the server, where a gynaecologist or obstetrician can always access it.
3. Telemonitoring, or remote care over a patient
Constant supervision over patient’s health by means of IT devices that monitor and analyse the basic life functions. That is what telemonitoring is. Depending on the business model adopted, the data collected during examination is sent either to specialist centres analysis records from devices or directly to physicians. The result? Patient’s health condition is under constant supervision and in case of occurrence of any disorders, a physician can react immediately.
Telemonitoring is commonly used in cardiology in the form of implantable devices that monitor heart functioning. They enable performing an electrocardiogram (ECG) without leaving home – the telemetric records are sent to an analysing centre. The use of telemonitoring is advantageous not only to patients under round-the-clock home care, but also to outpatient clinics. Limiting the visits of patients to the necessary minimum reduces the occupancy of facilities, thanks to which specialists can be visited by those people who need it urgently. Reduction of routine medical appointments and the feeling of being under constant care provide patients with an opportunity for improvement of their both private and professional life.
How to implement IT solutions in a medical facility?
Before the medical facilities can offer telemedicine services and the patient can take advantage of them, it is necessary to implement appropriate solutions. Computerisation of a health care facility is a significant step preceding implementation of telemedicine solutions in it.
It is not enough to equip a facility with telemedicine equipment. It is also required to implement modern software making it possible to use the potential of the infrastructure purchased, i.e. to accumulate, process, analyse and send patient data while maintaining the highest level of its security. This entails studying the offer of IT service providers with regard to their competences and experience and choosing one that will be a comprehensive partner. Why is this so important?
An experienced team of specialists will help the facility with going through the whole process of implementing telemedicine solutions and related systems: starting from collecting information and requirements and analysing needs and processes, through selection of appropriate technologies, and ending with implementation and maintenance. An IT system that is prepared well for remote provision of services to patients will adjust the facility to the requirements of modern medicine, ensuring the security of data and increasing patient satisfaction.
The future of telemedicine
The fact that remote provision of medical services is the future is well known among the health care entities operating on the telemedicine market in Poland. In the light of a report elaborated by PMR, published by the Rynek Zdrowia (Health Care Market) web portal, over ⅔ of facilities intend to expand their offer within the scope of telemedicine. This result is not surprising when taking into account the fact that the estimated value of the telemedicine services market in Poland had increased by 22% by the end of 2017.
The intense development of telemedicine is going to make more and more hospitals, outpatient clinics and other health care facilities look with a more favourable eye on IT innovations. Assuming that the estimated increase in value of the telemedicine services market is reflected in reality and that the growth rate remains steady in the following years, it can be assumed that the implementation of telemedicine solutions will be required in order to maintain competitiveness and to attract patients to a given facility.
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