E-Health and telemedicine: Opportunities and obstacles surrounding digital media services

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Miss Sarosha Damani, a year 10 secondary school student in London, who is studying towards her GCSEs. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


E-health is the use of information and communication technology to support health and healthcare, driven by non-professionals whilst telemedicine is the remote healthcare service of patients, such as consultations, diagnosis, and treatments by communication through technology. Both have been on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic but have accelerated due to restrictions to curb the infection, advice to not leave the house and changes in practice. In April 2020, overall telehealth utilisation for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February 2020 according to McKinsey and Company.

E-health and telemedicine come with many opportunities. E-health gives everyone the chance to get medical attention and support, whilst it can also be time and resource-efficient, saving commuting time and travel costs. For example, the utilisation of mySugar application, a Diabetes tracker log which provides a personalised dashboard to help plan a diet amongst other vital signs would save a trip to the doctor’s office. Similarly, telemedicine also provides convenience, for both the clinician and the service user. Telemedicine enables doctors to see more patients in a shorter period of time, whilst the virtual appointments make it easier to fit around the service user’s schedules, with no need to take time off work, and wait around in a waiting room. One benefit not spoken about much with respect to telemedicine is how practitioners are able to see one in their home environment, which can help them make tailored approaches to the individual and see potential social factors which may influence the medical diagnosis or the treatment plan.

However, with such opportunities also come obstacles. With so many services available, the apps need to be better absorbed into healthcare systems to be used to their maximum potential. If patients don’t understand how to use technology let alone telemedicine services, it can reduce utilisation and cause issues for both patients and professionals. Healthcare professionals must also be trained to help out patients if needed. On the other hand, some may not even have the technology or data to use these services. Many assume everyone has access to technology however internet poverty is an issue that needs to be addressed. The researchers from the University of Cambridge wrote that the digital divide is not just a generational issue but is a significant issue that will hit the poor the hardest as they will be left behind. Additionally, due to the growing market, there are many services available which may not be used if your patients are not aware of your telemedicine services.

To conclude, whilst telemedicine and e-health have their benefits and drawbacks, it is clear and evident that they will be playing an increasingly important role going forwards as we emerge from the pandemic. It is important that we integrate these into existing systems, that we do not replace face to face services and do not forget those who are most marginalised.

References:

https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/digitaldivide

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/benefits-of-telemedicine?amp=true

https://innovations.bmj.com/content/6/4/252

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(20)30362-4/fulltext

About the author

Miss Sarosha Damani is a year 10 secondary school student in London, who is studying towards her GCSEs. Sarosha’s interests lie in health and wellbeing, and she hopes to study a healthcare related degree at university.

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