In the 19th century, radio’s were the sole mode of communication. Its prominence in almost every domain ranging from entertainment to national security is believed to be the main reason for further innovations over the radio. A sensational article featuring the illustration of a doctor tending to a child over video call was published in the Radio News Magazine of 1924. This was probably the first blueprint of a technology that would be universally adopted years later.
Telemedicine technology made its first debut in medical literature in the 1950s with the article written by Zundel and colleagues in 1996. This was about the radiologic image transmission between two townships in Pennsylvania. In 1959, the United States found video communications useful in the practice of medicine. In 1964, clinicians at the University of Nebraska established a telemedicine link with Norfolk State Hospital (situated 112 miles away) to provide neurologic consultations, psychiatric consultations, education and training. Fast forward to a literature review of 1992 which revealed that the National Library of Information System included 374 articles on the use of telemedicine in both healthcare and educational fields between 1975-1990.
If telehealth becomes a huge and widespread reality, then care for patients in rural areas will significantly improve, chronic conditions and diseases can be monitored easily, travel costs for both patients and doctors will be reduced, and hospital readmissions will decrease.
The role of COVID-19 in expanding Telemedicine
The COVID 19 pandemic has played a significant role in uplifting the usage of telemedicine resources worldwide. One of the primary reasons for this surge owes to its mobility. Telemedicine is a mobile resource that can be implemented anywhere at any time and meets the current public health requirements of social distancing.
In one of his articles, Denadai states “Once this catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak has been overcome, the standard of care may change compared to the pre-pandemic standard, and I expect that the barriers restraining the widespread use of telemedicine could also be overcome, or at least a pathway to achieve this goal may be demarcated.” Telemedicine consultations may become the new norm in a few months from now and in-person consultations may become a second option to many.
In the US, the pandemic catalyzed the rapid adoption of telehealth services. President Donald John Trump announced a waiver in telemedicine requirements in the mid of March this year. Senior citizens were urged to use telemedicine as much as they could to curb the spread of the virus and to maintain the hospital capacity. On April 30th, he announced that the number of Medicare patients using telehealth services increased from roughly eleven thousand per week to more than six hundred and fifty thousand per week.
Various hospitals from a city in China launched online medical consultation services due to complete lockdown. These services targeted consultation for COVID-19 symptoms, psychological problems, other diseases and prescription-refill, AI-enabled tools to conduct a self-assessment, and joint consultations by various doctors from multiple hospitals.
India too released its telemedicine practice guidelines on 25 March 2020. The MoHFW conceptualised CoNTeC (COVID-19 National Teleconsultation Centre) which was later implemented by AIIMS, New Delhi.
The Israeli CLEW-ICU sets an example for telehealth globally. It uses AI analytics to provide remote patient monitoring with algorithms that can predict the patient’s clinical state. It has already proven successful in the ICU’s and is now being extended to all care settings.
Challenges encountered with telemedicine
Undoubtedly, telemedicine will pave the way to better healthcare outcomes in future. However, there are yet some barriers to be overcome by telemedicine in order to beat the present system.
- Low image clarity due to poor bandwidths of the internet
- Insufficient data for continued care - patients who receive telemedicine service from one physician might visit another physician for his next problem. This leaves gaps in the information that may be required to diagnose the patient.
- The inability of patients to operate technical devices
- Unawareness of patients about telemedicine services
The contribution ‘Arintra’ makes towards improving Telemedicine
Arintra is a clinical history-taking platform that works towards overcoming these challenges. This mobile-friendly application that easily integrates itself into any existing software, was built for doctors to actuate effective consultations. After an appointment is booked for consultation by a patient, Arintra sends a text message to the patient’s cell phone with a link to the pre-consultation form. It captures the patient’s chief complaints, history of presenting illness, past medical history and comorbidities, current and past medications, and social and family history.
This history-taking API captures 80% of a patient’s history prior to the consultation and generates a concise report of it. With the help of this remotely captured history, doctors can save up to 45% time per consultation, reduce chances of miscommunications during video consultations by 80% and identify the right specialization for remote patients.
Arintra also hosts video-calling services that have been thoroughly tested with actual doctor-patient consultations across all types of devices. This too doesn’t require any installation and can easily integrate itself into any platform.