If you have ever experienced an ailment that left you bed-ridden and wishing for help but did not have anyone nearby, then you know what I’m talking about. We cannot control when we are struck by some disease, but we can create countermeasures and support structures for when it happens. This is what modern technology empowers us with.
So what is Telemedicine?
The definition of Telemedicine and Telehealth are sometimes used interchangeably, but Telehealth is a broad term that encompasses remote health not involving active clinical treatments, while telemedicine involves services such as health assessments and consultations.
To put it simply, it is a way for us to get medical consultation without having to travel to a clinic or hospital. This concept has been around for a long time; but now with all the advancement in real-time communication and information technology, we are truly empowered to seek medical assistance regardless of our location and physical condition.
Telemedicine also enables our doctors and caregivers to gain assistance from other hospitals by outsourcing evaluation of test results to those who are better equipped.
Let us elaborate on just how much good that can be done with Telemedicine.
We can have any number reasons for not going to a clinic or hospital. People living in rural areas will not have access to nearby healthcare. Elderly or disabled individuals will have great difficulty in going to a hospital even if one is available. Social stigma can also prevent people from getting the care the care they need.
With Telemedicine, we can get the healthcare we need whenever we want.
Every year, the U.S spends over $2.9 trillion on healthcare- more than any other developed nation, and this value is only increasing. It is estimated that around $200 billion of those costs are avoidable or unnecessary spending.
With Telemedicine, we can avoid most of this needless expenditure. Treatment follow-ups and proper medication can be observed. Also, ordinary visits to a doctor can be made more efficient.
Access to specialists
Even if a hospital or clinic is readily available and accessible, it need not have the staff required to handle every known ailment. A specialist will be required to help treat less common ailments such as a rare form of cancer.
With Telemedicine, we can extend the access to medical specialists to any hospital or clinic that does not have one on hand. This makes it easy for primary care doctors to consult medical specialists on a patient case.
In terms of healthcare, we need to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the safety and health of our patients are not compromised.
So let us take a look at the potential drawbacks of Telemedicine.
Requires technical training and equipment
We will need to buy and set up new equipment to enable telemedicine. Also, doctors, specialists, and caregivers need to be given the training to use the new equipment.
Might reduce in-person visits to a doctor
As useful as Telemedicine is, we will sometimes need to have a physical exam performed by a doctor to get a full diagnosis. Telemedicine is best used as a supplement to this so as to perform check-ins.
Healthcare policies and reimbursement issues
With changing state policies, reimbursement plans for telemedicine is not as easy as the ones we have with in-person doctor visits. However, many states in the U.S now have parity laws which require private payers to reimburse telemedicine visits in the same manner as regular visits.
How can WebRTC help?
We do not need to purchase specialized equipment to deploy telemedicine via WebRTC. Existing modern desktops, tablets, or smartphones, combined with an excellent internet connection is more than enough to deploy WebRTC based software. Since nearly all of these devices come with a camera and microphone, voice and video calls can be initiated on demand.
In terms of medical applications, security is non-negotiable. Luckily, WebRTC provides us with several layers of security features.
- WebRTC is not a plugin, nor does it require any installation process for any of its components. All the underlying WebRTC technology is installed as part of downloading a suitable WebRTC-compatible browser, such as Chrome or Firefox. If we have such a browser, we can browse to and use any WebRTC application with no other setup or preparation required. Therefore, there is no risk of installation of malware or viruses through the use of a WebRTC app. However, we still need to access WebRTC apps via an HTTPS website signed by a valid authenticator.
- WebRTC applications require explicit permission from us to access our cameras and microphones. It is not possible for them to arbitrarily gain access to either device. Also, when either camera or microphone is in use, the UI is required to explicitly show us that they are in use.
- Encryption is a mandatory feature of WebRTC and is enforced on all components, and this includes signaling mechanisms. Therefore all media streams that we send over WebRTC are securely encrypted, enacted through standardized and well-known encryption protocols.
We have the knowledge, tools, and need for providing accessible healthcare services, and I believe it is about time we get to it.
“Although we have enough healthcare support, often it doesn’t reach the poor and needy. In this scenario, technology is the best solution.”– N. R. Narayana Murthy