The new generation of video conferencing servers like R-HUB`s suite TurboMeeting (http://www.rhubcom.com) and Cisco WebEx assures doctors and patients those minimum standards of affordability, reliability and security that are necessary to implement telemedicine services on a wide scale. This could lead to a disruptive revolution in health care very soon.
Telemedicine is nothing new. It was originally ideated to help patients who were located in remote places (typically in the countryside) with shortage of medical professionals. However, its usage was to change fast. Since today’s patients are unwilling to waste their time in the waiting room of the doctor, telemedicine is increasingly being used as a tool for convenient medical care, although its original purpose has not lost.
This is not the only new use of this technology. The fast tech advances of these years have been continually creating new opportunities for telemedicine. For example, video conferencing has made it possible to get medical or psychiatric help from the best doctors in the world with just a click. For medical teams, it means a possibility to replicate difficult operations or treatments under the remote supervision of the doctors that discovered or invented them. The combination of video conferencing with virtual reality and 3D printers could impact traditional medicine even more disruptively by adding the possibility to get and print the necessary tools for surgery from remote, and have local staff trained remotely by distant experts.
Another big change is connected with the transformation of some tasks that are less flamboyant and more down-to-heart than great surgery, as distant patient vital parameter monitoring. The combination of new tech devices and video conferencing could allow hospitals without beds. Patients would stay home, and they would be monitored and treated by a nurse under supervision of a remote staff that link up with them through phone, email, and video conferences.
A similar facility already exists. It is located near Saint Luis, and it provides remote support for 38 smaller hospitals scattered in an area from North Carolina to Oklahoma that do not have a physician on-site 24 hours. Results: 30% fewer deaths and 35% decrease in patients’ length of stay. In conclusion, telemedicine increases efficiency and efficacy.
Latest statistics confirm telemedicine growth. Virtual doctor visits climbed up from 1 million in 2015 to 1.2 million in 2016 and 75% of US hospitals offer their patients telemedicine programs. The number of Americans that received medical care remotely was over 15 million in 2016, a number that is supposed to grow of 30% this year.
What is it behind the growth of telemedicine? The answer is the fast development of teleconferencing technology, which has become so inexpensive and easy-to-use that almost everybody can afford the price of it. For example, the smallest R-HUB`s video conferencing server costs 995$ only. Being a plug and play device, it does not require any specific IT competence, and its technology conforms to the strictest legal standards about privacy and data security.
Naturally, telemedicine has also its dark side that is quality loss. Distance visits do not work well for some diseases, for example skin problems, and a distant, superficial visit with a doctor never seen before has been regarded as a way of trading quality for convenience by most critics of this new technology. In conclusion, while it is true that telemedicine allows facilities to decrease costs, it is also true that this could lead to a poorer quality of medical services and more fragmentation in health care. But in such case, both patients and doctors will lose out.