The phenomenon of telemedicine did not arise in our lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it was in the last two years that this sector has become more relevant than ever before. Social distance, which is one of the key conditions for the prevention of COVID-19, is the main constituent element in telemedicine since the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of patients by medical specialists is done remotely using telecommunication technologies. The use of this approach can be traced back to the previous decades; however, it has been sporadic and limited due to the high cost and complexity of the equipment. Initially, telemedicine was most often used for consultations between general practitioners and their more specialized colleagues situated in remote locations, such as medical centers or campuses away from rural or hard-to-reach populations. The situation has changed due to the wide and ubiquitous spread of the Internet. The creation of communication devices capable of providing high-quality communications, both audio and video, has provided tremendous opportunities for remote patient assistance at home, in the workplace, or nursing homes.
In addition to greater security, that is, the absence of possible contact with other potentially infectious people, telemedicine provides several other benefits for patients, including saving time and cost on a commute and procedural processes, a higher level of confidentiality, and the availability of any specialists. Regarding doctors and medical staff, they report improved efficiency in their services and, as a result, increased income, as well as better patient follow-up and improved health outcomes [Chironhealth, n.d.].
The use of technology (computers, video, phone, messaging) and medical software makes it easier and cheaper for patients to manage their health with increasing levels of chronic disease. Patients with such diseases need frequent tests, medical checks, dietary advice, and other emergency care. Enabling patients to use telemedicine for these services eases the burden of a chronic illness and increases the likelihood that the patient will comply with follow-up instructions. The use of a dedicated post-hospital follow-up program for patients with heart failure reduced the number of readmissions within 30 days by 73% [Smith, 2015].
To help a patient with information provision, preservation, and further questions, telemedicine tools can connect a family member to a virtual visit, even if that person lives out of town or in another country. Moreover, monitoring a patient at home via video or audio connection helps allergists identify allergy triggers, and neurologists and physiotherapists observe and evaluate a patient’s ability to navigate and take care of themselves in their own home [Hasselfeld, n.d.]. Of course, telemedicine does not replace necessary face-to-face consultation, but only complements it. Experts separate telehealth and telemedicine; while telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, covering activities such as administrative meetings, continuous medical education, and physician training. Telehealth is not a specific service, but a set of methods to improve patient care and education.
For successful contact of the patient with the doctor or nurse, a desktop computer with a special video card is usually used. High-speed telephone lines or satellite communications also allow participants to interact in a virtual meeting, and the security of private information and databases is vital. Today, there is a lot of innovative telemedicine equipment to meet the various needs of patients, along with smartphones and computers, mobile medical devices such as ECG or vital signs monitors [Vsee, n.d.] are actively used. The touch screen allows providers to receive information about heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, and other data by transferring readings from one device to another. Australia, Japan, Singapore, and the EU have developed digital health strategies to create similar standards for determining the quality, safety, and clinical value of new medical devices. A growing number of countries are adopting data protection regulations that should make it clear to businesses, investors, and consumers what data can be shared, with whom, and how [Bestsennyy et al., 2021].
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that telemedicine can significantly slow the spread of the disease and protect vulnerable populations. The desire for safe use of home health services has grown so dramatically that remote care outperformed outpatient care by 78 times in April 2020 compared to February 2020 [Bestsennyy et al., 2021]. The pandemic has also led to the rapid digitization of hospital systems; to increase capacity, expand remote care, deploy the Internet of Things (IoT that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet) in hospitals, telemedicine consultations, or the operation of robots and robotic systems, it was necessary to radically improve access to networks. In this situation, AI experts have proposed the introduction of 5G networks, which have enormous potential to create a massive telemedicine infrastructure [The Medical Futurist, 2021]. We are talking about a dramatic increase in speed and bandwidth of networks, so up to a million devices per square kilometer will be able to simultaneously connect. For the development of telehealth, especially telesurgery, the time of reception, transmission, and information management must be reduced to about one millisecond. A high-speed network in a hospital system can quickly and efficiently transfer enormous data files with medical images – up to 1 gigabyte of information per patient per examination. In the case of remote consultation today using existing networks, it is extremely difficult to send or receive such amounts of data. 5G technology will enable physicians to use AI software to carry out the most advanced projects in telemedicine and, in particular, telesurgery, providing the necessary operations to those who need it most. For example, in China, a 5G-powered medical robot, located at a distance of about 200 km from the operating room, performed a remote brain operation in 60 seconds [The Global Herald, 2021].
Not surprisingly, telemedicine and telehealth have become a sector of significant capital investment and rapid growth. Healthcare represents 18% of America’s GDP ($3.6 trillion) a year. In other wealthy countries, the proportion is lower, around 10%, but is increasing as populations age and the pandemic spreads. CB Insights, a data provider, estimates that investment in digital health startups has nearly doubled in 2021 to $57 billion. Worldwide, there are now 90 healthcare startups worth $1 billion or more, four times as many as five years ago. Existing tech giants Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta (Facebook’s new parent company), and Microsoft poured about $3.6 billion into health-related deals last year, with two areas of particular interest: devices and data. In Russia, Kazakhstan, and other CIS countries, it is too early to talk about the rapid development of telemedicine and telehealth. Factors such as the absence or insufficient development of legal regulations, mediocre funding, clarity issues regarding payment and insurance, technical unpreparedness of doctors and patients, distrust to the new formats of work of medical institutions – all these factors partly hinder the rapid development that we are seeing today in some countries of the West and East.
Nevertheless, the main global trends indicate that telemedicine has great prospects and opportunities for its development. Artificial intelligence, digital telemedicine and diagnostics, and telehealth are laying the foundation for new healthcare systems in many countries around the world. There is hope that they will be able to withstand global challenges and offer new strategies to deal with existing and potential future crises within this extremely important but vulnerable sector of people’s lives.
Bestsennyy, Oleg, Gilbert, Greg, Harris Alex & Rost, Jennifer (2021). Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality. Accessed on 17.01.2022.
Chironhealth. (n.d.). What is telemedicine? Retrieved from https://chironhealth.com/telemedicine/what-is-telemedicine/ Accessed on 16.01.2022.
Hasselfeld, Brian William. (n.d.). Benefits of telemedicine. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/benefits-of-telemedicine. Accessed on 17.01.2022.
Smith, Andrea (2015). Gastroenterology and telemedicine – a perfect match. Retrieved from https://chironhealth.com/blog/gastroenterology-and-telemedicine-a-perfect-match/. Accessed on 18.01.2022.
The Global Herald. (2021). 5G-powered medical Remebot performs remote brain surgery in 60 seconds. Retrieved from https://theglobalherald.com/news/5g-powered-medical-remebot-performs-remote-brain-surgery-in-60-seconds/. Accessed on 18.01.2022.
The Medical Futurist (2021). 5G in healthcare: Boosting remote brain surgeries, connected health, or medical VR. Retrieved from https://medicalfuturist.com/5g-in-healthcare-boosting-telehealth-vr-connected-health/. Accessed on 20.01.2022.
Vsee (n.d.). What is telemedicine? Retrieved from https://vsee.com/what-is-telemedicine. Accessed on 16.01.2022.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.