Ethos Ho, BSc Pharm Candidate
Increasing Health Access through Technology
Advancements in communication technology have never been as progressive as in the past decade. Things that were once thought to be only feasible in the imagination are now a reality. Improvements in technology have paralleled that of healthcare, where new drugs, vaccines, surgical procedures, and diagnostic machines (just to name a few) have greatly enhanced the lives of patients. However, with all the current medical services available, one of the weaknesses in our healthcare system is accessibility – sometimes just the act of visiting a clinician is the most difficult part of the process. This is especially true for those living in remote areas, or who have limited means of transportation.
Telemedicine (also known as telehealth and telehealthcare) is an emerging area in healthcare that aims to address these gaps in patient care by providing health services over the phone, computer, or other forms of electronic communication.1,2 This article will address the implications of telemedicine and the evidence surrounding this new area of practice.
Telemedicine in Alberta
Did you know that Alberta has one of the largest and best-integrated telehealth networks in North America? Telehealth in the form of teleconference technology has allowed patients to access health care in remote areas and save money associated with travelling. Alberta telehealth has established more than 900 video-conference sites across the province, allowing patients to connect with their providers through a secure network that transmits video, pictures, voice, and health information.3
Certain healthcare professionals in Alberta, particularly physicians and nurses, can provide telemedicine services to patients, given that they meet the appropriate licensure and registration requirements.4,5 Although the guidelines and standards of practice are still being developed for providers, ensuring patient confidentiality and safe and secure electronic communication is a mandatory requirement to provide these services.4,5
Quality of Care Compared to Conventional Healthcare
An obvious limitation of telemedicine is the inability to provide physical assessments of patients. Nonetheless, telemedicine has helped improve the care of many Canadians, reflected by the significant savings made to the country’s healthcare system. Across Canada, telehealth has:6
- Saved 47 million kilometres in travel and $70 million in personal travel costs for patients and their families in 2010.
- Saved the healthcare system $55 million in 2010 from government-subsidized travel, reduced hospitalizations and other costs for patients with chronic diseases.
- Saved clinicians nearly 500 days in travel time, allowing them to provide more healthcare services.
- Significantly reduced wait times for dermatology and ophthalmology programs.
In addition to country-wide savings, telehealth has been found to provide the same or better quality of care as in-person visits. An independent study that looked at telehealth interventions on patients with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and heart failure found that virtual care was comparable, or more effective, than conventional care.7 Another study examining the benefits of diabetes management through telehealth showed similar results. In fact, telehealth was associated with lower rates of serious complications such as low blood sugar.8
The Bottom Line
Telemedicine is an exciting new field of practice that has shown very promising results in improving health care. As shown in the studies mentioned above, telemedicine excels in providing care for patients with chronic diseases, including those in remote areas, and has saved our healthcare system millions of dollars in the process. Although telemedicine is still at its infancy stage with practice guidelines and procedures in development, there is no doubt that patients and care providers will soon be better connected than ever before.
We hope that you found this piece of information interesting and useful. If you have any questions or concerns regarding telemedicine or health technology, feel free to reach out to us through Instagram, Facebook, or email@example.com!
- Rush, K., Hatt, L., Janke, R., Burton, L., Ferrier, M., & Tetrault, M. (2018). The efficacy of telehealth delivered educational approaches for patients with chronic diseases: A systematic review. Patient Education And Counseling. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2018.02.006
- Jeong, J., Jeon, J., Bae, K., Choi, Y., Park, K., & Kim, J. et al. (2018). Smart Care Based on Telemonitoring and Telemedicine for Type 2 Diabetes Care: Multi-center Randomized Controlled Trial. Telemedicine And E-Health. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/tmj.2017.0203