The internet has been extending the reach of many industries over the last few years, allowing remote employees to telecommute while remaining part of the office community, extending the reach of software through the cloud, and now in the form of telemedicine.
Telemedicine may not have all the advantages of a regular doctor’s visit since the patient and doctor can’t physically interact, but for patients living in remote areas, far from basic care, or those who can’t reach a faraway specialist, telemedicine can be a great alternative. With internet access reaching every remote corner, no one is too far away from a doctor anymore.
Miles From Mental Health
While most small towns have at least occasional access to a nearby general practitioner, one of the healthcare sectors most commonly lacking in rural areas is adequate mental healthcare. A small town may not have a therapist or their may be conflicting social relationships that make seeing that doctor a problem. And there’s almost certainly no child psychiatrist in rural areas – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t children who need one.
Telemedicine has been solving this problem, beaming in doctors across the distance. Dr. Jeff Jacobs, for instance, sees his Washington state patients using this technology, though Jacobs himself lives in Tennessee. This is no longer uncommon – a recent survey of psychiatrists out of University of Wisconsin Madison showed that 8% of these mental health practitioners now use telemedicine. And the benefits to patients who otherwise might go without mental health care have been great.
Virtual Vital Signs
Mental health care is mostly a talking practice, but improved technology is also allowing doctors to keep an eye on more concrete patient issues at a distance. Take, for instance, the more than 50 million Americans with high blood pressure – not all of them are receiving regular medical care. But now using Bluetooth-enabled devices, doctors can not only talk with patients and discuss their care plans, but also gather vital signs. This can help them catch problems with remotely located patients before they get out of hand.
Monitoring patients remotely can also help doctors prepare for in-person work with these patients. If a patient is coming to town from hundreds of miles away, telemedicine evaluations can ensure that the right set of specialists are already on hand to examine and treat that patient when they arrive. It can be prohibitively expensive for these patients to travel such long distances repeatedly, so making these connections in advance is vital.
Reaching The Vulnerable
Still, there are limits to the reach of telemedicine, many related to resource allocation. Many rural areas are still lacking the kind of high speed internet needed to make telemedicine successful. Furthermore, Medicare only reimburses doctors for telemedicine visits based out of clinics, not out of patients’ homes. Loosening these restrictions can make telemedicine more accessible for isolated patients and increase the number of doctors participating in these programs.
Telemedicine is changing the face of medicine and improving patients health throughout the country. The next step is to broaden the scope of telemedicine globally. Will organizations like Doctors Without Borders eventually reach patient without ever leaving their home base? Telemedicine may make this possible.