Telehealth is considered as the ‘Natural evolution of healthcare in the digital world’. It is the place where technology meets health care. It is defined as the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies. It allows long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions. Telemedicine plays a vital role in reducing the burden on the tertiary hospitals by providing diagnosis and treatment to patients in their own geographical location and reducing chances of patient's exposure due to hospital visits.
The term telemedicine was coined in the 1970s. ‘‘Tele’’ is a Greek word signifying ‘‘distance, ’’and ‘‘mederi’’ is a Latin word signifying ‘‘to heal.’’ Historically, telemedicine can be traced back to the mid to late nineteenth century with the first published record in the mid-twentieth century when electrocardiograph (ECG) information was transmitted over phone wires.
NASA played a crucial role during telemedicine’s early development. To provide healthcare services to space explorers, NASA (1972–1975) brought about Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care (STARPAHC), which delivered clinical care to the Papago Indian Reservation in Arizona. Using Telemedicine, NASA laid the foundation of the commercial space center, MITAC (Medical Informatics and Technology Applications Consortium) at Yale University (1997), paving the way for the current trend of private participation in public health management.
In the recent past, monitoring the patients was most often through in-office visits. The technological advancement of wireless communication devices is a major development in telehealth. This allows patients to self-monitor their health conditions and to not rely as much on health care professionals. Furthermore, patients are more willing to stay on their treatment plans as they are more invested and included in the process as the decision-making is shared. Technological advancement also means that health care professionals are able to use better technologies to treat patients for example in surgery.
Technological developments in telehealth are essential to improve health care, especially the delivery of healthcare services, as resources are finite along with an ageing population that is living longer.
The outbreak of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) is a public health emergency of international concern. During this global pandemic, telehealth is emerging as an effective and sustainable solution for precaution, prevention, and treatment to stem the spread of COVID-19.
It is bridging the gap between people, physicians, and health systems, enabling everyone, especially symptomatic patients, to stay at home and communicate with physicians through virtual channels, helping to reduce the spread of the virus to mass populations and the medical staff on the frontlines, said Dedi Gilad, CEO, and co-founder of Tyto Care, a telemedicine technology company. Critically, hospitals are quickly adopting telehealth to treat quarantined patients infected with COVID-19, he added.
A significant factor in slowing down the transmission of the virus is the “social gap” or social distancing that is made possible by the reduction of person-to-person contact. The use of telemedicine at the time of epidemic conditions (COVID-19 pandemic) has the potential to improve the research of epidemiological, control of disease, and management of the clinical case. Nowadays, with the rapid evolution and downsizing of portable electronics, most families have at least one device of digital, such as smartphones and webcams that provide communication between patients and healthcare providers. Video conferencing and similar television systems are also used to provide health care programs for people who are hospitalized or in quarantine to reduce the risk of exposure to others and employees.
There are various benefits in using the technology of telehealth, especially in non-emergency / routine care such as providing psychological services. Remote care reduces the use of resources in health centers, improves access to care while minimizing the risk of direct transmission of the infectious agent from person to person. In addition, it provides wide access to caregivers. Therefore, this technology is an attractive, effectual and affordable option.
The barriers to implementing these programs also largely depend on accreditation, payment systems, and insurance. Furthermore, some physicians are concerned about technical and clinical quality, safety, privacy, and accountability.
“The next generation of health care will be decentralized, mobilized, and personalized. Instead of the blunt instruments of the past, we will be giving patients more precise medications and therapies.” Hence it is essential to consider the potential of telehealth as an alternative method of engaging with patients.