Telemedicine: House Call Doctors Make a Comeback!


Telemedicine, or telehealth, is a virtual house call between the patient and the doctor, simply delivering healthcare services by telephone regardless of distance. The impact of telemedicine is expected to transform the future of medicine and healthcare givers in the coming few years, in all areas, whether urban or rural. This service is mainly concerned with reaching the elderly, as well as patients with chronic diseases, mobility disabilities, and/or living in rural or busy urban areas. With the aim of helping those in crucial need of medical supply and specific health follow ups, telemedicine offers them this service at a relatively low cost.

Telemedicine services are massively applied with huge benefit in making life more convenient than before. Even with your family doctor, you do not need to visit the clinic and pay transportation fees, or face mobility barriers, especially if you live in rural areas, such as farms, with insufficient healthcare services.

As a new line of medicine, telemedicine was initiated in the early 1900s, in the Netherlands. At that time, inventors were able to facilitate connection between the doctors and their patients, using radio revolutionized communications. Years 1920–1940, telemedicine increased in Europe and Pennsylvania cities, where radiology imaging reports, such as X-rays, were transmitted through phone lines, and succeeded to transfer it cross 39 km.

In 1950, Canada applied this service and built its own technology entitled the tele-radiology system, which was popular in Montreal. With its widespread, as well as motion pictures with the advent of film technology, scientists created video medicine. In 1959, clinicians at the University of Nebraska were the first to use video communications for educational and medical purposes, using a two-way television setup. In 1965, televisions were settled in general hospitals for consultations.

Today, there are three telemedicine services applied:

  1. Synchronous Telemedicine is an on-time and live connection that needs both the patients and their healthcare providers to be online at the same time.
  2. Asynchronous Telemedicine, also known as “store-and-forward telemedicine”, in which patients wait more time to get medical help. They store and send their information to their healthcare providers, who reply according to their convenience.
  3. Self-Monitoring Service allows physicians to access and monitor remotely critical data of patients, such as blood pressure, heart rhythm, and any vital signs.

Between Yesterday and Today

Yesterday, telemedicine was invented primarily to rescue situations in rural areas, where there were no health facilities, and for making correct rapid decision to save lives at emergency departments. Today, modern technology makes the mission simpler and easier: smart applications on mobiles and tablets, such as Skype and Google Duo, for rapid video conferences; smart wearables, such as wrist fitness bands and smartwatches with heart monitors, make patients alert with any new abnormalities.

Nevertheless, today’s smart glasses and watches have become more popular among physicians, and are expected to make medicine more paper limited; all patients’ monitoring values become electronically reported. In the USA, around 7 million patients are currently estimated to use telemedicine annually, and are expected to outnumber in the next years.

Barriers of Implementation

Despite the previous marvelous benefits of telemedicine, it has showed unfortunately some drawbacks. There are no clear safe policies controlling any service provided by the telemedicine industry. It is still considered a new line of medical industry with different laws in each country, and different billing and reimbursement systems with no borders of patient/doctor rights.

Telemedicine also faces several technological barriers. Although the technological breakthroughs of the twentieth century can simplify anything, it is uneasily to happen with elder patients, who need the establishment of special devices to connect them easily with their doctors.

Not any healthcare supplier can be a tele-doctor, and this barrier requires excessive time, money, and particular training plans to prepare professional staff with all available technological facilities to maintain more patient convenience.

Where will the technology take us in the future?

Imagine the fantasy of an online 24/7 medical center, served with home staff and tele-doctors of all specialties. The center is located in one city and its platform connects physicians from different cities, transferring the service to another remote country. Yes, the future can surprise us more, but it will happen one day with remotely controlled digital devices. Tele-doctors may be able to consult, diagnose, and treat diseases over thousands of kilometers.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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