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It is no big secret that cost of healthcare is on the rise. With many available services, telemedicine helps people financially, particularly those who are without insurance and those who have poor healthcare benefits. One of the most significant benefits of telemedicine is that the federal government has approved it for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Find out about the benefits of having a doctor that is in – online!


Defined as the use of telecommunication technologies to offer clinical services and information, online healthcare is a growing trend. As patient expectations increase, so does healthcare costs. This has driven researchers to explore alternative modes of healthcare delivery. These commentators are actively investigating the efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of telemedicine.


The Many Services of Telemedicine


Telemedicine offers several types of services from the most common to the more advanced. The most common available service is phone consultations. Many people do not realize that when they speak to their doctor or a nurse on the phone, that call a type of telemedicine. In many cases, a psychiatrist, psychologist or a therapist will have telephone sessions instead of face-to-face meetings. Many times, with the use of a webcam, the provider and patient will communicate via video chat. This is not exactly the aim of telemedicine, but it is considered a type of telemedicine.


They are some services already being used that fall under telemedicine. A few of these include: consultations; completing history and physical paperwork (those 6 pages you must fill out on your first visit to the office); and on-call nurses (who answer questions and even advise you what to do in certain medical situations). Another service of telemedicine involves the pediatrician who provides phone care. Pediatricians take several calls to assess whether a child needs to be seen in the office or not, and they advise parents regarding home care or other needs. This is a common practice, as parents tend to overreact when children are sick or injured.


Research Finds that Patients are Satisfied with Online Healthcare


Telemedicine researchers Mair and Whitten (2000) point out that, while telemedicine may be alright for patients in certain circumstances, most research regarding patient satisfaction gives us more questions than answers. These researchers investigated both patient and doctor satisfaction. Their study design involved a systematic review of all the satisfaction studies regarding online doctors. These investigations were conducted globally and published between 1966 and 1998. The main outcome measure was quality of evidence about patient satisfaction. After identifying 32 studies, the investigators found that all 32 studies reported good levels of patient satisfaction. They concluded that research suggests that teleconsultation is practical for many patients, but certain issues regarding patient satisfaction warrant further investigation.


The Benefits and Drawbacks of Telemedicine


In 2005, researcher Hjelm investigated the benefits and drawbacks of telemedicine. His review was based on preliminary results, expert predictions, and physician scientist opinions. The benefits reported include: enhanced access to information, improved access to healthcare services, increased care delivery, and reduced healthcare costs. The main disadvantages Hjelm cited were:  a breakdown in the patient-doctor relationship, issues with quality of health information, and bureaucratic and organizational difficulties. This led to the conclusion that telemedicine offered substantial benefits, but drawbacks needed to be eliminated.


Questions about Telemedicine that Still Need Answers


These are some of questions that both doctors and patients continuously ask about telemedicine. Researchers Mair and Whitten (2000) point out that the whole purpose of their review was to determine if telemedicine is right for the majority of doctors and patients. When surveyed about telemedicine, both stakeholders wanted to know:

• What limitations exist with telemedicine?
• Are initial consultations acceptable or should telemedicine only be for follow-up consultations?
• How does telemedicine affect the doctor/patient relationship?
• Will the doctor be able to explain findings, and will I fully understand what the doctor tells me?
• Will patients feel hurried and avoid the usual questions asked during a traditional visit?
• Will patients answer questions honestly?
• Will my doctor miss something he would have normally seen during a traditional office visit?


Final Thoughts


Telemedicine has come a long way in the past 50 years, with most of those strides being made in the last two decades. A number of telemedicine services are currently available, including on-call nurses, phone consultations, and paperwork completion. Once people are aware of the many benefits of telemedicine, the positive aspects of online doctors will likely outweigh any negative ones, bringing a new and improved type of healthcare to the world!


References


Hjelm, NM (2005). Benefits and drawbacks of telemedicine. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 11(2): 60 – 67. doi: 10.1258/1357633053499886J. Retrieved from:  http://www.jtt.rsmjournals.com/content/11/2/60.short

Mair, F. & Whitten, P. (2000). Systematic review of studies of patient satisfaction with telemedicine.
BMJ, 320: 1517. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7248.1517. Retrieved from:
http://www.bmj.com/content/320/7248/1517


Phys.org (2013). Cutting edge cloud network technology to enhance the fields of telemedicine. Retrieved from:
http://phys.org/news/2013-04-edge-cloud-network-technology-fields.html


Phys.org (2012). Fujitsu develops high-speed thin client technology for 10-fold improvement in responsiveness. Retrieved from:
http://phys.org/news/2012-05-fujitsu-high-speed-thin-client-technology.html#inlRlv

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