In the wake of the pandemic crisis, many services had to go online or change to the home office. Classes, conferences, and meetings moved to the internet, with laptops and mobile devices. If co-workers can meet online, why can't you see your doctor in the same way?

Telecommunication technology is more accessible than ever. Undoubtedly, healthcare technology must keep pace with it. There are limitations to this system, though. Still, it can be a very effective tool for preventive healthcare. Read more about telemedicine's advancements in this article.

Main Applications

In 2015, specialists debated the best usage of this technology during emergency times. Telemedicine proved to be quite effective in the management of asymptomatic patients. It can also turn non-urgent visits into digital ones. Non-urgent telemedicine appointments have increased about 4,000% since 2020. 

Telemedicine helps to prevent critical scenarios of cardiovascular or chronic diseases. Even digital wearables are part of a remote monitoring system. Telemedicine is also perfect for tracking diabetic patients. Physicians can follow glycaemic levels at a distance and adjust dosages when necessary. 


Additionally, smartphones can help to prevent retinopathy, an ophthalmologic disease in diabetic patients. The eye test uses the smartphone's camera with impressive precision. During an online conference, a specialist can also evaluate the patient's breathing capacity.

Early Trials

The technology that makes telemedicine possible has been tested before, on minor scales. During the SARS outbreak, in 2003 and MERS-CoV, in 2013, it helped in different levels of diagnosis. Since 2020, the USA, the UK, and China, have made considerable advancements in the field. 


The Brazilian Case

In 2020, Brazil became one of the top countries in casualties by COVID-19. Worse, because of social-economic disparities, medical coverage differs across the country. In the Southwestern region, there are about ten doctors per 1000 inhabitants. In the North, this number can drop to less than one per 1000 inhabitants. 

The UFRS has developed a remote consulting and diagnosis system free of charge. This system has a very positive impact on underserved communities. In São Paulo, this system also connects a network of ICU beds. Teams are working 24/7 to assist the Respiratory ICUs. 

Telemedicine or Telehealth?

Both bear in common the at-a-distance approach to healthcare. Those terms concern the practice of medicine from a remote location. The eye test for retinopathy via smartphone is a great example. Telehealth has a broader meaning while still using telecommunication systems for non-clinical visits. 

New Challenges

Although telemedicine has shown positive results, the system is new to mass usage. Between 2017 and 2020, investments in the field increased thrice. Currently, the number of users is 38x more than it was before the pandemic. The urge for new ways to assist patients pushed for regulatory changes worldwide. Such changes are making further expansion possible. 

The field is brimming with investments and innovations. As digital and health technologies evolve, new methods will be available. Even ophthalmologic exams and cardiovascular tracking are now possible. Smartphones and wearable gadgets can assist physicians in those cases. All those developments allow for hybrid healthcare models combining virtual and in-person visits. 

Communication infrastructure and lack of trained professionals are some of the roadblocks ahead. This system depends on widespread digital technology to be functional. Likewise, it needs patients that can deal with it. Naturally, telemedicine doesn't include auscultation or palpation. Still, the system has been confirming its usefulness in successive trials. 

In Dubai, a test with 1,086 patients returned 99.4% accuracy in confirming positive cases of COVID-19. It's not recommended for emergencies. Still, it's very effective with prevention and non-urgent visits. Additionally, it protects the medical staff from exposure to infected patients. 

New Technologies

In the United States, teams are monitoring intensive care units (ICUs) remotely. Physicians and nurses can track in real-time the situation of up to 100 patients in different hospitals. Remote technology also helps professionals train new staff from distant locations. 

Business As Usual

Technology isn't the only factor hindering telemedicine's advancement. Health insurance companies are concerned about payment methods, credentialing, and reimbursement. In the United States, only a few states demand payment equity between in-person and virtual medical services. 

Conclusion

Telemedicine has evolved considerably since the beginning of the pandemic to face new challenges. From the early moments of the crisis, it has been a crucial tool for patients and the medical community. With time, more diagnoses and exams tend to get more accessible and straightforward. In some places, tablets were distributed to ease the communication between the local community and the medical staff.