According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is defined as ‘the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status’. It’s a burgeoning industry, dramatically influencing not only the way consumers receive healthcare, but the way in which practitioners are delivering it.
The popularity of telemedicine began 40 years ago to address the shortage of physicians in rural areas. But the concept of telehealth was initially developed over 50 years ago by NASA, with the monitoring of astronauts’ health during space flights.
With vast improvements in technology over the last few decades, the rapid growth of telemedicine as a health care strategy is inevitable.
More and more healthcare providers are installing the technology necessary to carry out virtual consultations. All this has been made possible through unified communications (UC).
Accessibility: Time is a precious commodity for everyone. Smartphones, tablets and computers, enable access to the cloud, allowing practitioners to ‘see’ patients almost anywhere and at any time.
There are also huge benefits to patients with mobility issues or those with difficulty getting transportation to a clinic or treatment center. This is especially useful when a patient needs a prescription refilled, or consultations on minor issues.
Collaboration: Telemedicine enables the healthcare industry to work as a whole, using cloud-based medical information systems. This saves patients time and cost with separate visits to specialists. Doctors can collaborate with specialists or other doctors via video or email to discuss clinical decisions.
Store-and-forward: Thanks to cloud-based technology, data-rich medical information, including X-rays, MRIs, photos, video and other patient data can be accessed easily. This “store-and-forward” technology is used most commonly in radiology, pathology, ophthalmology and dermatology.
There’s no doubt that telemedicine is here to stay. Doctors and patients alike are embracing the positive aspects. For example, according to a new study being presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), most parents of pediatric patients were more than, or equally satisfied with the treatment their children received during telemedicine consultations for allergies and asthma.
Challenges facing the implementation of telemedicine
Despite the obvious benefits of adopting telemedicine, there are some roadblocks to implementing it for both the healthcare industry and patients.
Dropped connections: UC is at the heart of telemedicine. A high speed, stable internet connection is vital. The equipment used to communicate should be reliable. Physicians already have heavy workloads and don’t have time to deal with glitches. An interrupted connection during a personal conversation might not be an issue, but during a patient consultation, it could lead to missed instructions and possible patient mismanagement.
Equipment compatibility: Telemedicine UC ecosystems can be complex. With multiple pieces of equipment, SBCs, gateways and servers, there is a lot of potential for devices to malfunction. When devices are replaced or upgraded, the possibility of incompatibility is increased.
Security: Healthcare is a sensitive area. The threat of cyber-attacks and breaches in the security of patients’ data is a big consideration for the telemedicine industry.
Overcoming the challenges
Health checks are not just for people. Healthcare institutions need to ensure that their technology and communications ecosystem is in good shape and geared for maximum performance. Network monitoring and troubleshooting is the key to the success of the telemedicine industry. It is as vital as the equipment and technology itself.
Without the tools to immediately address the above challenges, and accurately predict future problems, the user infrastructure is under threat.
Prognosis for UC can enable IT teams to manage complex, multi-vendor communications environments within the telemedicine industry in real time, ensuring healthy performance and a stable environment for all users.