E-health and Telemedicine: The future of medicine

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Vidhi Parikh, an intern doctor at Parul Institute of Medical Sciences and Research and Parul Sevashram Hospital, India. 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.


Exactly a decade ago, talking about a portable device resembling a video game that has the potential to ameliorate pain, detect heart rate and monitor blood pressure would make you sound like an Alien. Fast forward to today, transfer of medical images over smartphones such as X-rays and Scans, relevant clinical data has become a reality and hence it can be rightly said-’Health in the palm of the hands’.

Digital health services include telemedicine and e-health. Telemedicine has a long history, the earliest recorded occurrence of telemedicine dates back to the early half of the twentieth century when an ECG was communicated over telephone lines[1] In the era of the pandemic, where physical distancing between humans is crucial, telemedicine plays a pivotal role in the delivery of the necessary healthcare.

Telemedicine holds great potential especially in developing countries where access to basic care is of primary concern. It can also play an essential role in the treatment of any disorder that doesn’t require laboratory investigation or physical examination. The most comprehensive telemedicine application can bring health coverage closer to people in remote places where quality treatment is otherwise unreachable. Although online consultations cannot replace in-person consultations, they are meant to help people overcome practical obstacles such as travel or long wait times to visit a healthcare provider. Latest telemedicine practices have whittled down travel expenses, saved time, and made it easy for the common man to access practitioners. It also makes healthcare providers’ lives easier by reducing the number of missed appointments and cancellations, along with remotely observing patients improving follow-up and health outcomes.

Most individuals used to be content with getting a physical once a year and only consulting their doctors when something went wrong, but in this digital realm, patients are now emphasizing preventive care and they are expecting more information about their health than ever before. In addition, various wearable sensors, gadgets, and measuring devices to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels are increasingly used to remotely manage patients with chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Asthma. And also to prevent any further complications. Schools collaborate with doctors to provide remote school visits. Such health services should also be incorporated into public health awareness programs. In remote areas in situations where a specialist is unavailable video consultations can be used to triage the patients. Apart from delivering healthcare to remote areas, it can also be used to provide education in the form of CME, Hackathons, virtual workshops and thereby increasing opportunities in medical education.

Although Digital health services are the oil boom of the era, Telemedicine comes with certain limitations. In developing countries, the barriers to digital health services include appropriate awareness, expense, lack of technical expertise, and unreliable internet connectivity with limited bandwidth whereas legal concerns in the form of patient privacy and confidentiality act as a major obstacle in developed countries.

However, effective collaboration between all stakeholders – health professionals, communities, and policymakers – is essential to overcome the barriers. Successful projects include Norway’s ECG initiative, telemedicine practices during Maha Kumbh Mela in India, Pan-African eNetwork Project, Apollo Telemedicine Enterprises, ISRO’s telemedicine network and prove that Digital health services hold a promising future.

References:

1- Einthoven W. Le télécardiogramme [The telecardiogram]. Archives Internationales de Physiologie, 1906, 4:132–164. 

About the author:

Vidhi Parikh is an intern doctor at Parul Institute of Medical Sciences and Research and Parul Sevashram Hospital, India. She is a member of MSAI. She has also done a research study on menstruation when she was in her third year of medical school. She has attended various workshops and conferences concerned with skills in medicine and patient care. She is an avid reader of Track. She has started a campaign on MHM where she spreads awareness in rural areas and aims to end period poverty. She is interested in research involving newborn medicine. 

Comments

  1. I don’t think it can be stated enough just how influential telemedicine has become, especially following COVID-19. It speaks to how integral technology has become and how well businesses have built their strategies with this in mind.

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