Telemedicine technology isn’t new. Webcams, voice-over-Internet-protocol, and encrypted communication apps like Skype and Zoom have all been around for years. Some specialty practices, particularly psychotherapy, have used telemedicine as part of their practices since it became available, and these days almost every insurance policy offers telehealth services for free or very highly discounted.
The COVID-19 epidemic in early 2020 brought telemedicine to the forefront in new ways as people used to in-person visits found themselves talking to more of their doctors through electronic communications such as patient portals, emails, and telecommunications technology. Public health was so threatened that specialists resorted to consulting with patients remotely and even primary care physicians reserved face-to-face visits to treat patients who needed special procedures, such as blood drawing or shots administered.
Now that more of us have been exposed to telemedicine, let’s look at what it can do for us in a healthy world with no pandemics.
More people are using patient portals than ever before, although they’ve been around for a while. These are websites with patient information on them. Most major health systems have them, and more small clinics are adding them to their treatment.
On a patient portal, one can find information such as their most recent vital statistics, past and future appointments, and prescription information. Patients can ask for refills and ask questions of their doctors without having to visit the office. Patient portals also have a wealth of medical education articles that can help people learn self-care, especially for chronic conditions such as heart disease and digestive issues.
These sites are very secure in order to protect patient information and give patients the chance to keep up with their own care in real-time.
Part of our national insurance laws provides for visits that prevent common chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. However, it is not always necessary to go to an office to consult with a doctor about it during the preventative phase. While diabetics, for example, must have their blood drawn and vitals read once every 90 days, patients in the preventative phase need these procedures done less frequently. Serious problems that require a trip to the office can still be determined online. But if the patient just needs to talk to the doctor, why create the other conditions that make doctor visits miserable or risk exposure to the illnesses of people who need personal medical attention?
One of the highest demands for employees is among medical support staff – various types of nurses and medical administrators. In a clinic, this is less obvious, but in the emergency room or other crisis centers where the need is greatest, the staff is forced to work long hours with few days off to cover the needs of patients. Even doctors are overworked in these scenarios, especially in specialties where there are a lot of patients but few professionals. Remote medicine can help free up this vital medical staff by providing opportunities for more patients to visit clinics or prevent ER visits before they manifest.
Sometimes, going to the doctor’s office is over an hour of sitting in the waiting room, 30 minutes in the exam room, and perhaps 15 minutes with the actual doctor. Many visits don’t even involve taking vital signs or needing nurses, so why spend 2 hours in an office for 15 minutes with a doctor? Not only is your time saved, but so are the doctors and the doctor’s staffs. This frees up emergency room staff because more people can go to the doctor’s office instead of the ER for minor health issues. Plus, there is less exposure to patients with contagious illnesses, which means there’s less chance of you getting sick.
Often, especially in a perfectly healthy person with no chronic issues, there isn’t much to discuss with the doctor. Even with specialists, many visits are simply short discussions updating your medical file, refilling your prescriptions, and maintaining the status quo. When long waits and other patients are a consideration, that short consultation could take hours of your day, most of it spent waiting. With telemedicine, you’ve got an appointment to keep but you’ve also got the freedom to do it from home, where you can do the things you need to do without wasting 2 hours for a 15-minute consultation.
Psychiatry and psychotherapy deal with a lot of sensitive topics, and patients face a lot of stigma from “neurotypicals,” or people with no mental disorders. From physical ailments such as dyslexia and schizophrenia to illnesses caused by chronic cognitive distortion, such as depression and anxiety, mental health, in particular, requires a lot of privacy for the comfort of patients. While physical ailments require trust in doctors in nurses, mental ailments involve private thoughts that are sometimes embarrassing or controversial.
While telemedicine for physical ailments has been on the rise in recent years, mental health online has been thriving for decades simply because of these differences in treatment. The increased privacy of not having to visit an office at all is of great support to mental health patients who want to keep their conditions discreet. This is a great boon because to reiterate, society, in general, has a significant stigma against mental health patients. This is popularized in the movies and on television, with murderous villains having the same sorts of mental disorders as everyday people, giving the wrong impression of common ailments such as depression, anxiety, and mania.
Through telemedicine, mental health patients especially can talk to their doctors from the privacy of their own homes about sensitive subjects that can be dealt with by mental health specialists. Gender, sex, and couples therapy are all about the patients’ self-perception, while therapies to treat depression or bipolar disorder, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dig very deeply into patients’ beliefs and worldview. Being able to discuss these topics in an encrypted online conference rather than by visiting an office can sometimes be soothing, so a lot of therapists and psychiatrists have been using telemedicine for a long time. Even common sites for psychology articles feature live chats for people to discuss their problems, which is more and more useful in today’s increasingly complicated world.
In cases of both physical and mental health, telemedicine has literally saved lives as it innovates patient care. No longer do patients have to shuttle from doctor to doctor, miss appointments, or fail to schedule them at all due to lack of time or availability from work responsibilities. Even vital statistics can be taken at home and transmitted to doctors by nurses who travel from patient to patient. This form of remote patient monitoring is good news for patients who have to see a lot of doctors, especially those weakened by their conditions or who are disabled in other ways.
The rise in the use of telemedicine for the treatment of both mental and physical health could be a permanent improvement in our healthcare. It makes healthcare easier for both patients and the doctors, nurses, and staff that are responsible for our medical needs. It brings a lot of solutions to problems in our healthcare system that have cost lives. It could provide access to people who are in distant sites from the nearest healthcare facility.
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