In the early 2020s, many futurist dreams have become a reality. We are carrying high-power PCs capable of accessing any information in our pockets. We can use an online grammar checker to instantly proofread our texts before submission. We have fitness bracelets measuring our heart rates and sleep quality. As doctors perform their first surgeries via 5G-equipped remote robots, there is one sphere that has not fully realised its potential yet but may completely change our lives by the end of the 2020s. In this article, we will discuss the present and future of telehealth and the advantages it offers to every person on planet Earth.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth or telemedicine is usually defined as the provision of health-related services via remote communication channels. It may include:
- The monitoring of patient’s health.
- Patient education.
- Remote admissions.
- Physical therapy.
- Adjustments of long-term treatment plans.
Its recent growth is primarily linked to the global COVID-19 pandemic limiting the physical access of millions of patients to healthcare facilities. As they could not see their doctors, they had to resort to remote consultations, which proved to be sufficient in a large number of cases. However, telemedicine has been advancing for decades already with multiple lives being saved by prompt recommendations obtained via the phone or email by patients who could not access traditional hospitals. As new technologies such as 5G offer the promise of increased global connectivity, many experts predict the rapid growth of telehealth as an auxiliary system supporting traditional institutions rather than replacing them.
What Benefits Does Telehealth Offer?
As opposed to traditional hospital visits, telemedicine offers a number of clear advantages including:
1. Instant Appointments
Most telehealth providers can find you a doctor on a 24/7 basis. This is substantially more effective than traditional healthcare systems that consistently fail to provide prompt responses to customer queries. If you need urgent medical advice to alleviate your anxiety, telemedicine may be your best chance of receiving professional assistance in non-critical situations.
2. Unlimited Appointments
As opposed to in-person visits to overworked hospital practitioners, telehealth providers have a sufficient number of professionals to satisfy any demand levels. If you need urgent supervision on a daily basis, you may be better off seeing a remote professional than getting an appointment at a state clinic.
3. A Second Opinion
Telehealth platforms may allow you to consult highly ranked professionals with unique competencies who are not available in your area. This may be beneficial as a second opinion in complex cases to ensure that your local specialists are offering proper treatment strategies.
4. Greater Availability of Medical Services
A telehealth consultation usually costs less than an in-person visit. The inability to gain proper treatment in the case of chronic health conditions is one of the problems affecting most global healthcare systems. Telehealth solves this challenge since any person can receive prompt support at an affordable price to identify whether their condition is deteriorating and prompt hospitalisation is required.
5. Access to High-Quality Services from Anywhere
Whether you are staying at your relatives’ house with your newborn baby or travelling across Ibera Wetlands in Argentina, you may encounter the need for medical advice. An unusual rash, a weird allergic reaction or a weak pain in the guts may not be worthy of driving to a nearby hospital right away but is too dangerous to ignore in the long-term perspective. Remote consultation with a high-quality medical professional can alleviate your anxiety even if the problem turns out to be minor in scope.
Where Are We Now?
As of the early 2020s, there exist multiple private companies offering remote healthcare services as well as official telemedicine departments of state providers such as the NHS in the UK. Its adoption is promoted by state authorities in many areas as a way to increase the accessibility of physicians to all population groups and to reduce the workloads on physical facilities. A remote cooperation scheme allows patients to:
- Avoid the need for live meetings in the case of follow-up consultations.
- Access different doctors without visiting them in person.
- Enjoy 24/7 support in all situations.
- Decrease anxiety.
- Regularly upload critical data and test results in the case of stable chronic conditions to predict potential problems.
However, the existing systems still do not resolve the following limitations:
- Patient data protection prevents the merger of remote healthcare providers with state hospitals.
- Regulatory provisions related to telehealth are still unclear in many areas.
- Many health conditions cannot be effectively appraised without direct examinations.
- Some insurance companies do not cover telehealth costs.
The current situation may be characterised as a ‘transition period’ where practitioners are still experimenting with new technologies. However, the current trends strongly suggest that many elements of traditional healthcare will be ‘outsourced’ to telehealth systems due to the bottlenecks identified during the COVID-19 period.
What Does the Future Hold?
As agreed by most experts, telehealth may not fully replace traditional doctor visits in the case of acute conditions or situations when a practitioner must diagnose some illness through a medical examination. With that being said, its main advantages are realised in the case of:
- Follow-up visits focused on longitudinal monitoring of treatment effects.
- Chronic illnesses where patients usually require new pharmaceutical drug prescriptions and condition control.
- Older patients and patients with limited mobility who cannot visit their nearest hospital regularly.
The advancement of personal monitoring systems such as fitness bracelets, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, oximeters, and other portable medical devices implies that a large number of tests can be performed by patients on their own or ordered from a nearby private laboratory. This means that the need for follow-up visits can be substituted with regular uploads of critical health indicators to a telehealth system. The doctors can monitor this data and decide whether some patients are experiencing some problems requiring a live visit. This monitoring may also take the form of emergency services shown in many works of fiction where a person showing signs of a critical condition triggers the dispatch of an emergency team sent to their location.