Telemedicine is simply the use of telecommunications to provide healthcare.  From the use of robotics to deliver medical procedures, to cell phone applications that provide consumer health innovation, such modern wonders hold the promise of revolutionizing the delivery of health. There are a variety of other names associated with the telemedicine such as telehealth, connected medicine, mobile healthcare and remote monitoring.  Regardless of the name, telemedicine offers patients better access to healthcare wherever they are located.  Instead of going to the doctor, telemedicine allows the doctor to come to you.

Although little-known by the public until recently, telemedicine has been in use for over 30 years allowing specialists to diagnose or monitor patients from a distance or rural residents to gain access to far-away providers.  In fact, in 2012 around 11 million people received telemedicine services in the United States; however, many were not even aware of it. With digital imaging, radiologists no longer have to be located next to an imaging device.  Over 5 million Americans had x-rays, MRI scans or CT studies read by radiologists who were located offsite.  About 1 million Americans have had a pacemaker or other implantable cardiac device monitored at a distance.  In addition, over 300,000 patients received remote telemental health consults.

More than convenience

In an increasing number of cases, telemedicine is being used to save lives.  For example, last year almost 90,000 stroke patients benefitted from telestroke service provided by a trained neurologist — many had their lives saved.

With advancements in technology and experiences of hundreds of applications, telemedicine is now allowing patients to access health services at home, in the workplace or wherever they may be located.  Whether it involves cell phone applications that help the chronically ill monitor their conditions, online web sites providing consumers with live video healthcare assistance or wireless services allowing a doctor to monitor their patient while away, the barriers of distance are falling away.

Growing awareness

With advancements in technology and experiences of hundreds of applications, telemedicine is now allowing patients to access health services at home, in the workplace or wherever they may be located.

However, realizing the full benefits of telemedicine still requires barriers to be overcome.  Medicare and other public and private insurers are slow to recognize and pay for telemedicine services.  State and federal regulations of health provider licensing and medical practices are often still geared to the way healthcare was delivered decades ago.

Unfortunately, while progress is finally on the march, the adoption of technological innovation in healthcare has seriously lagged behind almost every other industry.  Consumers would never think of patronizing a bank that did not offer ATM services.  Even bookstores and music stores have long since gone digital and online.

So in a way, it is surprising that the use of telemedicine is not more widespread.  But change is coming with lowered costs of telecommunications, increased interest by physicians and consumers alike and the discovery that such innovation can not only deliver healthcare to more people, but also do it in ways that save money and improve the quality of care.  It is fair to say that the best is yet to come, and the person that benefits from such innovation may be you.