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Telemedicine: An eye-opener for healthcare providers

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When healthcare is delivered across a distance, with exchange of healthcare information, it is called ‘telemedicine’. ‘Tele’ in Greek means ‘distance’. Therefore ‘telemedicine’ simply means ‘medicine at a distance’. It is not only the treatment done via telemedicine, but a whole range of activities such as diagnosis, prevention of diseases, medical education, and research all included.

MyDoctor.lk Founder Dr. Harsha Jayakody (MBBS)

The history of telemedicine runs back to the invention of telephone in the late 19th century. Back then, telephone was used for delivering healthcare information as well as to transmit and listen amplified sound from ordinary stethoscopes. Soon after, with the introduction of television, there was a major revolution in the telemedicine field. A psychiatric hospital in Norfolk, United Kingdom, has used a concept called ‘teleconsultation’ using television as early as in 1960s. 

The interaction of telemedicine can be categorised in to pre-recorded and real-time. Sending health information via email, remote interpretations such as teleradiology belongs to the former. 

Audio is the simplest form of telemedicine used in the world. Voice of a healthcare provider or a sound from a medical equipment such as a stethoscope, can transmit nowadays using digital signals over long distances. A significant percentage of primary care consultations happens over the telephone even without being identified as telemedicine. As an example, scheduling of appointments, triaging cases, adjusting medicine doses, reviewing results are some of them. 

The recent developments in information and telecommunication technologies, allowed a new era of mobile telemedicine, where real-time telemedicine was able via video conferencing which took telemedicine to a new level. In case of a video consultation, the video quality matters a lot. The higher the video quality, the higher the cost of equipment and the transmission.

Although telemedicine has been there for decades, there are so many barriers when implementing such systems as well as popularising them among the healthcare providers. ‘Fear to change’ is one of the leading causes among them. This may be due to various reasons such as the lack of knowledge and training about telemedicine, the lack of user friendliness in computer-based systems, technophobia (the fear of technology), are some of them. 

With the advancement of technology, Sri Lankan healthcare providers nowadays use technology in various ways to communicate with patients. Therefore, one can argue that it must be easy for them to adapt to standardised telemedicine systems. By supporting and acknowledging the clinicians who are prepared to be innovative and dynamic, we can help establishing new telemedicine platforms as well as strengthening the existing ones.

By adhering to the best practice principles, the concerns about legality and confidentiality issues can overcome. This may make healthcare providers confident in using telemedicine systems without fear toxicity. 

Presently, with busy workload, there is an uneven distribution of speciality care across the country. With the use of new emerging telemedicine platforms, doctors and other healthcare professionals will be able to serve the people better and more efficiently in the near future.

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