While telemedicine is seen by many as the future of medicine, it's already being utilized by doctors, nurse practitioners and other healthcare providers to connect with patients who might not be able to travel to an office for an in-person visit. As new technologies improve telemedicine, and as it becomes more established in healthcare, nurses will likely play a larger role in its implementation.
Telemedicine is defined as real-time contact between a patient and a healthcare provider using communication technology. While a telephone call could technically fall under the telemedicine definition, the use of real-time, two-way video is what makes the telemedicine of the 21st century more relevant and applicable than what was available to prior generations.
For two types of communities in particular, telemedicine is a boon.
In rural communities, telemedicine shrinks the distance between patients and busy doctors. There's already been an increase in telemedicine visits for rural communities. Notably, one study showed a 28 percent annual increase between 2004 and 2013, with outpatient clinics leading the way -- although hospitals and skilled nursing facilities are also utilizing them.
For patients who cannot travel even short distances -- whether temporarily due to an injury or illness, or due to a long-term condition -- telemedicine allows the patient to been seen by a healthcare provider even if that patient is unable to leave the bed.
But does telemedicine work as well as in-person visits with healthcare providers?
A Georgetown University article cites numerous studies claiming that telemedicine rivals in-office visits for effectiveness. The article points out other advantages like increased access to healthcare professionals, convenience and cost reduction. The article also notes that in some cases, telemedicine -- coupled with home monitoring technologies and team-based care -- can provide more effective and efficient care for patients.
Of course, telemedicine has its limitations; physical examinations still require in-person visits. It's a good idea, in many cases, to do an initial physical exam with a patient and then use telemedicine for follow-ups.
If a patient has a history of high blood pressure, for instance, and knows how to use a home monitor, the healthcare professional can screen for any symptoms that might result from a sudden spike in blood pressure. If a patient has a wound that's been initially assessed, a healthcare provider can gauge the progress of the wound as it heals, and put a new plan into place if it's not healing as it should.
Nurses are essential because of their ability to screen patients and relay pertinent information to doctors. As Marisela Cigliuti noted in an article on the Telenurse Network, "As technology continues to grow in the medical field, nurses will play a primary role in telemedicine. They will monitor patients and report to doctors, while providing enhanced care for those who would not receive treatment in the traditional way. Nurses often provide the daily care of patients through telemedicine and act as a go-between for the patient and doctor. Their role will expand in telemedicine as they help patients receive treatment sooner and see improved results."
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Sources:Georgetown University: How Will Telemedicine Impact the Future of Healthcare
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