Nearly every part of our lives today is performed online. We work online, shop online, socialize with our friends online, study online, and get nearly all of our entertainment online… just to name a few examples. It only follows, then, that healthcare is headed in the same direction.
With telemedicine, or telehealth, health professionals are able to offer and execute many of their services remotely, saving time and costs. It’s the healthcare option that few know about, but many could greatly benefit from. Read on to learn if telemedicine might be a good option for you.
What is Tele-Medicine?
While it may seem like something very modern, telemedicine actually has its origins in the 1950s, when doctors began to rely on technology to try and reach patients living in remote, rural areas. While the use of telemedicine was quite limited 70 years ago, the development that has since occurred of technology such as Wi-Fi, smartphones, and video conferencing has allowed telemedicine to take off, opening the possibilities of offering remote healthcare to patients who are unable to make it to an in-person visit for any variety of reasons. Now, it’s a great, widely available option that everybody should consider.
The Benefits of Tele-Medicine
For anybody who has groaned about the inconvenience of leaving in the middle of a workday for a doctor’s appointment, telemedicine might be immediately appealing. In fact, the pros of this technology are many and the impact is potentially great for everybody ranging from your everyday full-time worker to people with more serious health conditions or lifestyle limitations.
- Telemedicine is More Accessible
The original motivation for the development of telemedicine is no less relevant today than it was in the 1950s, when the technology first began to be developed. With telemedicine, people can have access to care that would be difficult for them to obtain otherwise. For example, seniors in assisted living communities, patients in rural areas without a hospital within several hours’ drive, and people cut off from services due to natural disasters all could use telemedicine to access healthcare that, in normal circumstances, would simply not be available to them. In fact, according to this article by Merritt Watkins, “physical adoption of telehealth increased 340% from 2015 to 2018.” The article goes on to say that by 2022 there may be as many as 590,000 physicians using tele-health.
- Telemedicine is More Convenient
Even for those who don’t live in a situation where it is particularly difficult to get to a doctor’s office or hospital, making it to appointments is nearly always a minor, if not major, inconvenience. It requires people to take time away from school, work, and family responsibilities. Or in the case of the doctor’s office being closed after hours or on a holiday, telemedicine is a great alternative. And for those who are feeling quite unwell, it can be quite literally a pain to sit in a car or waiting room for a long time waiting to get the help you need. Telemedicine can save the (potentially literal) headache. And in many cases, the follow up by the tele-doctor is even better than going to a doctor’s office.
- Telemedicine Expands Services
Unfortunately, much of the time, patients are limited to receiving the services that are available to them from the doctors and hospitals in their areas. With telemedicine, however, these boundaries are erased, and people are able to receive care without the mediating factor of distance.
Suddenly, a patient with a specific auto-immune disease living in a remote area can have access to international auto-immune specialists with specific knowledge about their condition. They can have more frequent check-ups with their doctor. Their health data can be monitored at all hours of the day, if so necessary. All of this contributes to overall more comprehensive health treatment especially for those who are in rural areas.
- Telemedicine is Cheaper
It’s no secret that, in the United States, healthcare and health insurance can be wildly, even prohibitively, expensive. One of the biggest advantages of telemedicine is that it can dramatically reduce costs. The assumption might be that, because telemedicine requires advanced technology, it would cost more money. In fact, health insurance companies are increasingly covering telemedicine services. According to a recent study with telemedicine, patients can save between $19 to $121 per visit. And that’s not to mention the money that patients save on transportation and not needing to take time off of work. More and more health plans are adding this as an option or an add-on to help reduce overall costs for both the plans and the participants.
Real Stories of Telemedicine Success
The benefits of telemedicine go beyond abstract statistics. Real people are benefitting from the technology every day. For example, Jill Hill of Grass Valley, California lost her health insurance, moved to a new state, and tragically lost her husband to illness in the span of just a few years. She found herself widowed, with no money, and on MediCal, feeling as though she had been “kicked out of the middle class” and that nobody cared.
Hill saw a doctor about her resulting depression, but her local hospital, located in a somewhat rural area, didn’t have the resources to offer in-person mental health services more than once a month. Without a vehicle to get her to a different hospital with more service availability, Hill was referred to a telehealth program. She was concerned it’d be impersonal, but once she started seeing her therapist once a week, her worries were dispelled.
Hill has since come out of her depression. She gets quality therapy and finally feels that people care about her and can give her the help she needs. “No, I don’t have money,” says Hill, “but I can get the same kind of health care as everyone deserves.”
Stories like this are plentiful. From helping a child with cerebral palsy access a neurologist, to helping low-income children see a dentist for the first time, to managing debilitating arthritis or diabetes, telemedicine is helping a variety of people of many different backgrounds struggling with all sorts of health issues overcome their limitations and get the care that they need.
No matter our circumstances, we can all likely benefit from telemedicine. But especially for those of us who are in any way limited by our health, our income, or our location, telemedicine can be, very literally, a lifesaver.
And it isn’t just here in the states, many remote areas around the world are now getting access to doctors and medicine that has not been available in the past.