Telemedicine is a term that covers the use of technology to deliver clinical care at a distance. It ensures that a person receives healthcare when needed, especially for those with limited access to care.
Telemedicine uses electronic and telecommunication technology to provide an exchange of medical information, despite a person and their doctor not being in the same room.
It can be as simple as text messaging medical care to as advanced as remotely controlled surgery.
Experts have used telemedicine in clinical settings for decades, with its first reference in a clinical setting recorded in medical literature in the late 1950–1960s.
This article explores telemedicine, its uses, potential benefits, and drawbacks. It also answers frequently asked questions about the practice.
Telemedicine allows a person to seek a doctor’s advice about nonemergency situations that do not require an in-office visit.
Currently, 76% of hospitals in the United States connect with people at a distance. They do this through video conferencing or other technology.
A person may also get medical services through a secure portal where the doctor can access their electronic medical record database.
However, insurance companies and practitioners do not consider telemedicine distinct from onsite services.
Telemedicine has several types, including:
- real-time video communication
- remote monitoring, which involves health data being reported, collected, and evaluated, such as:
- store-and-forward — storing and sharing medical information, such as:
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there was a 63-fold increase in the use of Medicare visits through telehealth from 2019–2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One-third of these are visits to behavioral health specialists.
Telemedicine amid the pandemic can help reduce a person’s contact with healthcare facilities and their risk of COVID-19. It can also help reduce staff exposure.
Learn more about the latest news and developments on COVID-19.
Uses during the pandemic
- triaging and screening for COVID-19 symptoms
- contact tracing
- monitoring symptoms and people recovering from COVID-19
- specialized COVID care for hospitalized individuals with COVID-19
This helps with:
- faster testing
- increasing the number of people healthcare workers can monitor at once
- freeing up hospital beds
- preventing the emergency rooms from becoming overwhelmed
Uses beyond the pandemic
Beyond this, doctors can use telemedicine for many other purposes, including:
- general healthcare, such as wellness visits and blood pressure control
- nonemergency follow-ups
- mental health counseling
- nutrition counseling
- prescription for medications
- physical therapy exercise
- tele-intensive care
Experts also telemedicine used differently in various fields of medicine, such as:
- Telestroke: Experts use telemedicine in emergency departments for neurologists to communicate remotely with emergency doctors, reducing the need for in-house neurologists. This helps deal with the shortage of neurologists in many hospitals.
- Teleradiology: Practitioners send images and reports from in-person or telemedicine exams to a remote radiologist, who then sends their report to the physician or another healthcare professional.
- Telepsychiatry: Direct interaction between a person and a psychiatrist through telephone or video conferencing.
Telemedicine has several benefits for the people and the medical professionals involved.
Comfort and convenience
With telemedicine, people can access care in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. This reduces the need to travel, arrange for child care, and leave work.
It cuts off waiting time and allows people to arrange their consultations around their busy schedules.
A 2019 study found that telemedicine saves people and their families attending a pediatric neurosurgery telemedicine clinic substantial:
- travel time
- time away from work
Increased access to care from a distance
Telemedicine helps make healthcare accessible, especially for people living in rural areas.
A 2020 study found that telemedicine provides some of the population access to care without potential:
Telemedicine consultations may be more affordable than in-person doctor visits and admission to the emergency rooms.
A 2020 review found that there was a reduction in health costs by 56% and travel costs by 94% when doctors used telemedicine in the following settings:
- intensive care unit (ICU) rooms
Telemedicine allows family members and caregivers to join in the consultation, ask questions, and provide information to contribute to their family member’s care.
Prevention of chronic diseases
A 2021 review found that telemedicine helps provide timely delivery of preventive care to people with cardiovascular diseases. This helps prevent acute events and the progression of these diseases.
Controls the transmission of illnesses
Scheduling appointments and creating more efficient clinic workflows lessen people’s exposure to others who may be ill. It also helps prevent and
Telemedicine helps healthcare professionals like occupational and physical therapists observe a person in their natural environment. This allows them to perform more thorough evaluations of the person’s abilities to move around and interact with their environment.
Read more about the benefits of telemedicine.
Some of the common disadvantages of telemedicine
- technological glitches when using devices
- inability to physically examine people
- lack of patient-doctor rapport and trust
- lack of access to the necessary infrastructure, such as high-speed internet
- diagnosis hindrance due to the poor quality camera, images, or lighting
- challenges in ensuring electronic health records remain protected
- lack of clarity on malpractice and liability concerns
- Medicaid and private payers have inconsistent policies on reimbursements
- Medicare only covers people in some rural regions
- individuals should meet with practitioners licensed in the state where they are in at the time of the visit
Learn more about medical malpractice.
Individuals can help overcome glitches by checking their internet connection and ensuring devices work ahead of appointments. If possible, a clinic or hospital staff receives training to help people with technical difficulties.
A person may use a platform that keeps track of their expenses and documents receipts required by their payers. They should also keep up to date with their insurer’s allowable reimbursements.
Clinics and hospitals must have a robust electronic health record (EHR) system to ensure data privacy and security. Doctors and patients should also ensure that they have a secure network connection and that the mode of delivery is easy to understand.
More importantly, since doctors rely on a person’s report, they must ask more questions to gain a more comprehensive medical history of their patient.
Practitioners need to be aware of their state’s regulations since most regulations on telemedicine vary across states.
Telemedicine focuses on remote clinical services provided by doctors. In contrast, telehealth is a broad term that covers remote clinical and nonclinical services provided by health professionals other than doctors.
Telemedicine covers include all communication within the doctor-patient relationship, including:
- diagnostic testing
- discussing medical history
Meanwhile, telehealth includes various remote healthcare services beyond those a doctor offers.
Clinical services include:
- remote interpretation of diagnostic tests
- specialist review of records for expert opinion
- consultation with a nutritionist or physical therapist
Nonclinical services include:
- provider training
- administrative meetings
- continuing medical education
Below are some common questions and answers on telemedicine.
Who can practice it?
Licensed physicians can deliver telemedicine to people. Some states require that people and their doctors are in the
Many companies offer telemedicine. Some of these are:
What are the costs involved?
The costs vary on the telemedicine provider, the specialization of the doctor, and whether it is an evaluation or a follow-up visit.
On average, a single visit costs $79. This is significantly cheaper than a doctor’s visit, which costs $146, or an emergency visit which costs $1,734.
Who can use telemedicine?
Anyone seeking medical treatment can use telemedicine. This may especially benefit those who are:
- living in a remote or rural location
- part of the vulnerable population
- homebound and bedbound
- restricted by tight schedules
Telemedicine jobs and how to apply?
There are many careers in telemedicine, including:
- clinical practitioners
- virtual physician assistants
- records data entry specialists
- other technical support staff
There are many job posts in different telemedicine companies.
Telemedicine bridges the exchange of medical information between the doctor and the patient through technology.
The service ranges from email to sharing relevant information and test results to robotic-assisted interventions.
Telemedicine offers a range of benefits, including comfort, convenience, savings, more contextualized assessments, and the involvement of family members in a person’s care.
However, it has drawbacks, including compliance and liability concerns and technological glitches.
Those who want to opt for this mode of care may ask their practitioners if they provide telemedicine. A person may also consider different telemedicine companies with practitioners licensed to treat in their location.