There is a passionate debate about how telemedicine’s popularity has recently grown and how its position will change in the future. To find out what is happening in this field, SOLVVE will take you through a brief history of telemedicine, explore its current advantages and disadvantages, and consider possible scenarios for the development of telemedicine.
History of Telemedicine
Remote diagnostics and treatment require a stable connection and means to transfer reliable information between patients and doctors. It might seem that it is only possible to fulfill these requirements with modern tools and technologies with extensive functionality of voice, video, and file transmission in real time. Yet, telemedicine, as we imagine, has been around for at least 50 years.
Furthermore, in 1879, The Lancet published an article discussing using telephones to cut the number of office visits for the patient. Later, in 1925, Science and Invention depicted a doctor communicating with a patient over the radio and further predicted using video for this purpose. In the 1950s, sending radiological images using phone lines became standard practice.
The next push came with the NASA space programs that required medical care for the missions, including remote monitoring, consultations, and the possibility of diagnostics. With the growing quality of video and voice calls and widespread access to internet connections, telemedicine grew more popular to solve some of the existing issues with traditional in-person visits.
Even though the market share of telemedicine grew over time thanks to its many benefits, it is still far from overtaking hospital visits due to the number of existing issues. Let us take a look at both of them.
Telemedicine: Current Situation
Despite the fast advance in technologies in the healthcare industry, many issues persist. For example, in 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported many misdiagnosing cases during remote skin examinations. In some cases, misdiagnosis stemmed from short video or photo quality. In others – unprofessional treatment from individuals without proper qualifications and licenses.
While this issue is easy to overcome by including systems and processes that verify the qualification of the healthcare specialist or cater specifically to verified businesses, the number of care providers remains insufficient. Moreover, one study showed that despite the availability of telemedicine, 82% of survey respondents have never used it. With such low engagement rates, it is easy to assume the low level of telehealth understanding among patients making them easy targets for fraudsters.
There are also roadblocks with insurance coverage, cross-border licensing, equipment availability, etc. However, this story has a more positive development as humanity works towards solving the problems mentioned above.
Telemedicine significantly saves time for doctors and patients who do not need to travel or wait in lines granting more flexibility to everyone’s schedules. This is particularly the point for people with mobility problems and residents of remote areas. Moreover, all sorts of wearable devices and health tracking apps open new possibilities for monitoring and treating chronic conditions.
The Future of Telemedicine
As technologies improve, we can expect telemedicine’s market share will grow. Nevertheless, it will probably not replace in-person treatment. For one, some manipulations can only be done in person, e.g., surgery (even though remote control of surgical instruments has been developing for years as well). Secondly, not all groups of the global population have access to the internet and the necessary gadgets.
Thirdly, telemedicine seems to become handy during particular times, namely epidemics. It is easy to see from the chart below how the worldwide search for telemedicine on Google went up during 2004-2006, matching the outbreaks of SARS and Avian influenza (bird flu) and during 2019-2020 as humanity paves its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is speculation that the current rise of telemedicine is a bubble that will burst once the pandemic is over. However, this is not the question of the “either-or” dichotomy between telemedicine and traditional in-person treatment, but the “as well as” approach where the global healthcare system has enough tools to match the various needs of the population.
Thus, we can expect telemedicine to occupy a stable and long-lasting niche in the network of medical services.
If you have any questions or ideas about telemedicine applications in your projects, do not hesitate to contact us.