By James Smith, blogger and researcher of latest technological trends in the fields of health and lifestyle. He has his work published on various authoritative blogs and is currently working on a telemedicine project at Mend Family. For all the updates follow him on Twitter @JamesSmith1609.
E-Heath, telehealth, telemedicine are different approaches towards accessible healthcare in remote areas or over a long distance. Technology has come a long way, opening new gateways for communication and transmission of information. To a certain extent, it has helped healthcare become more accessible, especially in remote areas.
Because of a lack of infrastructure, facilities, equipment and other factors, it is not always possible to offer quality healthcare in specific remote regions. Opening a healthcare facility requires time and resources, which would be challenging to amass in the remote areas due to lack of infrastructural development, lack of talent, lack of investors and so forth. However, due to efforts to make healthcare accessible to all, which is also a major Sustainable Development Program (SDG) objective, technology is used.
Healthcare service delivery has improved over the last few decades by adapting to new technologies. Terminologies such as e-health, telemedicine, and telehealth are all formulations of healthcare delivery, combined with communications technology. The initiatives taken towards developing the health service delivery is phenomenal. However, it is essential to establish an understanding of the differences in e-health, telehealth, and telemedicine. Most people would confuse them to be the same; however, they are quite different.
In simpler terms, telemedicine refers to the use of electronic communications channel/mediums, as well as information technology to deliver clinical services to remote patients. While telemedicine is a part of telehealth, it is more concentrated towards the use of technology for clinical service delivery. The service delivery is the same as medical practice. However, the critical difference is that it is used towards reaching out to patients in remote destinations via electronic platforms. This usually works when a patient and medical practitioner interact using video/voice conferencing to offer professional advice on medication and clinical services.
Telehealth is a broader spectrum of delivering quality health care via online mediums. The primary aim of telehealth is to provide healthcare services in remote areas with lack of healthcare services. Telehealth operates on the same principals of traditional healthcare practice with the use of technology. Because of the practitioners’ inability to be physically present in the area, they rely on telecommunications, internet and other communication platforms to interact with the patient and offer professional guidance.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), United States, telehealth is used to promote and support long-distance clinical health care. The use of telehealth helps with delivering professionalized clinical healthcare remotely. Furthermore, it also helps with developing and improving health-related education, health administration, and improving general public health.
Telemedicine can be delivered using various technologies, including the internet, still imaging, video conferencing, streaming media, wireless communications, etc. This means that it can be used in more than one way. For example, a patient can acquire professional consulting and diagnosis remotely.
Similarly, it can be used for educational purposes, for delivering quality healthcare education on recent discoveries, prognosis, diagnosis, and other evaluations. Telehealth is the primary method of providing quality clinical health care in underdeveloped regions. It is widely present in the African region and helps in offering quality clinical care to long-distance patients. In most cases, the practitioner would conduct examination using imaging devices, live video conferences, and by obtaining patient’s medical history. Moreover, doctors use telehealth to seek second-opinion or expert advice on complex medical cases.
The latest buzz in electronic healthcare is perhaps e-health that focuses on delivering high-quality healthcare using internet and information communications technology (ICT). IT encompasses telehealth and telemedicine and is widely adopted in different countries to provide better healthcare services.
The concept of e-health is not limited to providing long-distance health care, but to increase healthcare efficiency as a whole. E-health has helped in reforming healthcare delivery across various channels. It allows doctors to manage health records using electronic channels that can be retrieved at will and control electronic data for patient care. In an article by Gunther Eysenbach, written for the Journal of Medical Internet Research, e-health is comprised of various objectives, which are as follows:
E-health is focused on increasing healthcare delivery across all channels and not just for rural areas. It focuses on reducing healthcare costs to make it accessible and affordable.
Improving the quality of healthcare is one of the objectives of e-health by allowing quick comparison between different studies, providers, and quality assurance intervention. It will give patients access to a range of facilities for optimal quality.
E-health interventions focus on evidence-based diagnosis and high-quality treatment. Providing quality healthcare with evidence-based information is one key factor lacking in e-health, and massive improvement is required in this area.
Lack of knowledge is disastrous for patients, as they are unable to make informed decisions. E-health will allow patients to access a wide range of databases for enriching their knowledge and open new avenues for patient-centered medicine.
E-health will empower the relationship between medical practitioners and patients by giving them equal opportunity to make shared decisions, whereby working towards a true partnership.
Continual medical education is imperative in today’s fast-paced era with new scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. E-health will act as a platform for medical practitioners to receive tailored and structured information for continual education using online platforms.
Intercommunication between medical institutions uses primitive means of communication that often delays the transmission of information. E-health will focus on bridging the gap between medical institutions by offers a reliable and efficient communication platform for exchanging information, case files, etc.
E-health will extend the range of medical service delivery by making it accessible for more people. This includes people who are unable to acquire quality medical facilities due to lack of finances, time, access, etc. Since e-health can be accessed using online mediums, it can be made affordable, and people can acquire quality services at any time.
Developing ethical reforms and codes will be another factor in e-health, as it has changed the patient-doctor interaction. The new forms of patient-doctor interaction will need various improvements to the ethical code of conduct for privacy, informed consent, professional practice, and equity issues.
One of the premises of e-health is to strengthen healthcare and make it reasonable. Multiple threats can deepen the challenges faced by healthcare delivery these days. The purpose of e-health is to make it affordable, accessible, on a global scale without compromising on quality.
One thing is certain that telehealth and telemedicine, as well as e-health, can improve the quality of health care provided and improve patient engagement. What does the future hold for these technologies? Only time will tell.