Telemedicine: The future of health care

STAFF WRITER | PROSPER ERAVWUVIEKE

The internet is gradually changing the way we live in every aspect, as it's now almost required for virtually everything we do. From getting information on trends, communicating with friends and family, buying and selling, and even in real estate; the internet possibility list is just becoming endless.

And now, breaking into industries or sectors that we had never imagined; the internet is revolutionizing sectors by breaking complex protocols into smaller bits, such in a way which can be easily understood and accessed.

The health industry is now in vogue for the shift. Before now, nobody thought it possible to receive healthcare without an actual visit to a hospital. Isn't it hard to imagine scheduling an appointment with a doctor and get premium medical advice, all from the comfort of our homes?

Now the internet and ICT is making the process of accessing healthcare a seamless experience, by breaking geographical barriers between patients and doctors.  The concepts, the processes and requirements for giving and receiving healthcare from anywhere in the world are all summed up in a new term/trend known as Telemedicine or Telehealth. 

Telehealth is the distribution of health-related information and services through electronic transmission and telecommunication technologies.

While Telemedicine is used synonymously with telehealth, there's a slight variation/difference between both concepts.

Telemedicine can be used to provide home-based nocturnal dialysis, improved joint management e.t.c.

Understanding the technological concept behind Telehealth and Telemedicine

The telehealth technology allows for long-distance patient and clinician contact via the Internet, and with this, the clinician can share useful information with the patient, advice, monitor or remotely admit among others. The way it works is that both the patient and the doctor will make use of a telemedicine app to connect with each other. Telemedicine apps are software or mobile applications designed for the sole purpose of transmission and distribution of health-related information and services from health personnel to patients online. Healthcare providers can also use telemedicine apps to relate useful health information amongst themselves by holding virtual meetings, seminars and conferences to discuss the latest development in the health sector.

With telemedicine, it is possible for surgeons to perform surgeries using specialised robots. Whereas the surgeon need not be in the theatre physically, everything will be handled by the robot while the surgeon will have remote access to the robot, and with this, the surgeon can control the robot from anywhere in the world. 

The difference between telemedicine and telehealth is the scope they cover. Telemedicine only covers remote clinical services like diagnosis and monitoring, while telehealth includes preventive, promotive and curative care delivery.

Telemedicine benefits us in a lot of ways, for example in a rural setting where there might be no access to quality health care or difficulty in transportation or even inadequate funds to get premium health care, telemedicine can be used to provide the needed health information because with telemedicine, there will be no need to get the patient to the hospital physically, as the patient will have access to the best doctors from any part of the world. All these can save the patient a lot of costs; telemedicine generally cost a small amount of money.

Telemedicine requirements include a strong and reliable internet connection and an electronic transmission system that is, a computer or a mobile phone.

Types of Telemedicine

There are four types of telemedicine relative to examples, they include 

1. Live Video

Live video telemedicine provides for the patient and the doctor to communicates in real-time using audio-visual technologies.

2. Store and forward

For this type of telemedicine, the patient and the doctor do not need to be present, as the patient sends medical data( image, video, audio) to the doctor for offline assessment.

3. Remote patient monitoring

This is also known as self-monitoring, here the doctor monitors the patient remotely using various technological devices. 

4. Mobile health

This involves the use of mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, smartwatches to provide health services, collect health data and transmit health information. 

COVID19 impact on Telemedicine

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the need for telemedicine cannot be overemphasized. Telemedicine also ensures social distancing can be achieved in the healthcare sector and patients will still have access to medical care, thereby saving the lives of both the patients and healthcare providers.

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, it was reported in 2019 that only 39% of physicians in the United States used telemedicine in their practice, however, in the wake of the outbreak of the virus, there has been a massive adoption of telemedicine by governments, physicians and patients across the globe due to the overwhelming number of patients and a reduced number of healthcare providers in hospitals. In Nigeria, telemedicine business is on the rise as healthcare business/brands are coming up with /or promoting technological initiatives in mobile (phone) application which offers remedies in consultancy, diagnosis, logistics among others.

Perhaps this latest trend would be the positive COVID-19 impact on our world.

Challenges

One key challenge of telemedicine is that most people in the rural areas may not know how to adapt the trend and may not have access to a strong internet connection and electronic devices required to access telemedicine platforms. 

Where Telemedicine goes from here

Telemedicine though is still is a striving business but the market value has grown significantly in recent years. As of 2019, telemedicine global market was valued at 45 billion US dollars, however, the value has been projected to rise in 2026 up to 175 billion US dollars in global market value. Telemedicine has attracted some entrepreneurs in Nigeria and there have been a bunch of telemedicine startups. Yea, the smart entrepreneurs are taking advantage of telemedicine opportunities and have built and/or building a telemedicine business plan to take advantage of the projected 175 billion US dollars market value.

Some of the top telemedicine companies in Nigeria are:

  1. Dokita Healthcare limited
  2. Medtech Africa
  3. Mobihealth
  4. Wellvis healthcare
  5. Lafiya healthcare
  6. Chadelcare pharmaceuticals Nigeria limited.

Note that the list is in no particular order and the position of the companies on the list do not represent the quality of the telemedicine services they render. 

_________
Telemedicine is an emerging trend that is yet to reach full adoption but it has enormous health and economic benefits and it is capable of revolutionizing the entire health care system, and yes, telemedicine is the future of the health industry_______

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