Many people will be unfamiliar with telemedicine, even though it is going to play an increasingly important role in senior healthcare in future.
What is telemedicine?
It’s the use of mobile technologies to monitor health, so that a patient can take health readings in the comfort of their own home. This reduces the need for repeated and often unnecessary trips to the doctor or hospital.
As the world’s population is growing older 10 million people are over the age of 65 in the UK and it has been estimated that 60% of them suffer from chronic illnesses providing senior patients with the ability to monitor their own health is going to become increasingly important.
How does it work?
Chronic disorders like diabetes and heart conditions, which require regular but straightforward checks of blood pressure, heart rate, weight and oxygen saturation, are particularly suited to the use of telemedicine technologies.
Such readings can be carried out at home by patients using apps downloaded to devices such as an Android or iPad. The data is then transmitted to the relevant health monitoring centre meaning that the patient is required to make far fewer trips to the doctor. The healthcare process is therefore made more convenient and comfortable, as well as becoming a lot more cost efficient.
Why is it cost efficient?
In the UK 80% of patient interactions with the National Health Service are conducted face-to-face, and this is unnecessary, says British health secretary Andrew Lansley. Telemedicine could save money at a time of funding cuts and stretched budgets – Lansley estimates that Â£250million could be saved each year if a mere 1% of face-to-face appointments were instead conducted remotely using the latest telemedicine technology.
Is the equipment complicated to use?
Using such modern devices as an iPad or Android might appear overwhelming, especially to the elderly, but patients are taught how to use them and most of the time this is something patients learn fairly quickly, says Cornelia Wels-Maug, an Ovum analyst.
There are some challenges to overcome when introducing telemedicine systems. The technology is generally established, but practical application of the technology to the health sector can pose problematic, particularly in terms of interoperability. There are also issues concerning data security, which is why most hospitals use closed networks – to protect confidential data and ensure it is not intercepted during transmission.
Telemedicine technologies are not appropriate for all health conditions as some areas of health are symptom-based. They require complex evaluations that cannot be adequately carried out by a digital device.
Greater independence for seniors
Life expectancies are increasing globally and there are in future going to be many more senior citizens requiring healthcare, putting huge pressure on health services. Telemedicine could help reduce this pressure, whilst also giving patients greater independence. Many patients will be able to drastically reduce unnecessary trips to the doctor, avoid stays in hospital, and even delay the need to enter residential health care. Telemedicine is therefore likely to prove a vital healthcare tool in the future.
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