Telemedicine on the rise: Are virtual consultations the future of healthcare?
Tele-consultations boomed during the pandemic, but life is returning to normalcy. So why are they still preferred over in-person visits?
Teleconsultations are a result of advancements in technology in the healthcare industry, allowing for long-distance communication and providing a safer option during pandemics.
Startups making these services accessible have seen significant growth during the pandemic, as they provide a safe way for patients to connect with doctors. For example, in India, over 170,000 teleconsultations were recorded in a day in March 2022 through the eSanjeevani telemedicine service.
The healthcare industry is an ever-evolving field that is vital to the well-being of society. With telemedicine becoming increasingly popular, it is worth examining the benefits and drawbacks of teleconsultations compared to traditional in-person visits.
What is teleconsultation?
Teleconsultation, also known as remote consultation, is a method of providing healthcare services using information and communication technology. It enables healthcare providers and patients to communicate and exchange information despite geographical distance.
Teleconsultation allows for the diagnosis and treatment of patients through the monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, blood oxygen level, and body temperature. It is particularly useful in areas with limited healthcare facilities and for patients in remote locations who may have difficulty accessing traditional in-person medical care.
Pros of teleconsultations
1. It is affordable
Telehealth is a cost-effective and efficient solution for providing medical services. It is easy to set up and requires less infrastructure and personnel compared to traditional in-person consultations. By eliminating the need for clinic space and receptionists, telehealth can save both doctors and patients time and money, particularly on secondary expenses such as transportation.
A study has found that teleconsultation can reduce costs by 53% for healthcare practitioners and increase their productivity by 10%.
2. It can help doctors expand their patient base
Telehealth can provide significant benefits for new healthcare practitioners, particularly when it comes to building a client base. By using telehealth, practitioners can reach a wider range of patients and potential clients. The ability to provide services from home or a preferred office location can also be a major advantage for practitioners.
In addition, teleconsultation allows doctors to expand their patient base beyond geographical borders, providing an opportunity to treat patients from different countries and cultures.
3. More patient-centric
One of the key benefits of teleconsultations is that they put the patient at the centre of the care experience, utilising technology to provide solutions. Telehealth allows doctors to have access to a patient's previous medical records, symptoms, procedures, and medications, which can be used to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment.
Telehealth also promotes transparency and trackability of results and outcomes, allowing doctors to monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. Additionally, telehealth enables real-time communication and follow-up, regardless of the physical location of the patient and doctor, making it a highly efficient and effective way of providing healthcare services.
Cons of teleconsultations
1. Heavy use of new technology
Telehealth requires staying current with new technologies in healthcare and a working knowledge of the software and hardware used by telemedicine companies. It may also involve hiring IT staff or retraining current staff.
However, not all patients and healthcare providers may be comfortable with telehealth technology, particularly older patients who prefer in-person visits. Additionally, teleconsultation software can be prone to glitches and other issues, which can be avoided with in-person visits.
2. Physical examination may still be needed
Telehealth relies on devices such as cameras to monitor patients' health; however, the lack of touch, smell and clear voice can limit the ability of doctors to make accurate diagnoses.
While technology has the potential to reduce the need for in-person visits, it cannot fully replace them as they provide more comprehensive information.
3. Regulatory issues
Telehealth is a rapidly growing technology that allows for remote medical consultations and treatment. However, its regulations can vary from state to state, making it difficult for patients and healthcare providers to navigate.
As telehealth continues to evolve, it is important for there to be clear guidelines in place to protect patient privacy, ensure the security of patient records, and provide guidance for healthcare providers.
The lack of clear regulations in this field may make it challenging to enforce laws related to patient privacy and security, highlighting the need for more defined guidelines in the telehealth industry.
Are they better than in-person visits?
Yes? No? Maybe?
Teleconsultations provide a convenient and efficient way for patients to access healthcare and communicate with their doctors remotely. They offer several benefits, such as reducing travel time and costs and increasing access to medical services for people living in remote areas or with mobility issues.
However, teleconsultations also have limitations and cannot fully replace in-person visits. Some medical procedures, such as blood tests, imaging scans, X-rays, surgeries, and pre-surgery procedures, require a physical examination and cannot be performed via teleconsultation.
Teleconsultations can aid in the diagnostic process and help patients prepare for their physical visits, but they are not a substitute for them.
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