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Caring for the ill is as old as time. Over the years, society's care for the sick and infirm has changed with the advancement of medical technology. From stethoscopes to x-rays, medicine has been consistently progressing. However, nothing quite prepared us for how quickly medicine would be thrust into finding different approaches to providing health care like the COVD-19 global pandemic.
In the late 1800s, an article published in The Lancet pondered how the telephone would impact healthcare and possibly reduce the number of in-person doctor visits. Still, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), it wasn't until the height of the space race that telemedicine began to become a reality. As humans headed into space, doctors and scientists created ways to continue to provide healthcare to them from hundreds of thousands of miles away.
However, aside from NASA and clinical uses in psychiatric hospitals, where patients were too violent to assess in person, telemedicine didn't take off.
Recently, hospitals and medical centers have begun dabbling in telehealth. Many offer platforms and portals where patients can upload documents, track vitals like glucose levels, or view test results, without ever having to pick up the phone and speak to the office staff. These uses of telemedicine have increased patient empowerment and offer convenience. But it's not the futuristic "doctor in a television-screen" image that many people picture when we think of telehealth. Too many regulations and lack of funding make implementing an actual telemedicine system not worth the cost of investment for many doctors.
It wasn't until COVID-19 made office visits untenable that doctors began to make use of the ability to see their patients from a remote location.
When COVID-19 hit the United States, the medical staff was forced to find new and creative ways to see patients that were dealing with minor illnesses or injuries. The fact that this novel virus was contagious through air droplets made it too risky to have a waiting room full of patients that could pass the virus to each other. On its website, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) pointed out that the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) were going to loosen the regulations that control how telehealth services are delivered to those on Medicare/Medicaid. This change to the rules allows doctors to provide telehealth to those individuals on Medicare/Medicaid, as long as there is the ability to access the patient with a web camera. Many of these virtual screenings weren't from COVID-19 alone. Patients saw their doctors via telemedicine for issues such as diabetes, and mild illnesses.
These expanding applications of telemedicine make it clear that the healthcare industry will be continuing in this direction, even after COVD-19 is wholly contained. According to the Mayo Clinic, the ability to reach rural patients that might not be able to get to a doctor regularly is one such benefit. Doctors, hospitals, and other medical-based organizations may find it makes sense to invest more in technology that will increase their telemedicine capabilities. Also, advancements in telehealth tech allow doctors that care for the same patient to communicate more effectively, essentially become a team of caregivers that can see changes and updates of patient health in real-time. Healthcare IT News discussed how conducting virtual doctor visits not only gives medical staff access to patients that have difficulties being seen in person but also gives a more exceptional picture to health. With virtual visits, medical personnel can peek into home life and other issues that can impact the overall health of their patients.
While one of the most significant impacts telehealth has will be the ability to have more presence in underserved communities, other avenues can be explored. Surgeries completed by smart robotic arms, over a secure network, is one area of telehealth that is being investigated. One thing is sure, and that is the COVID virus may have quickened the use of telemedicine, it is here to stay.
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