Telemedicine services became increasingly popular during the pandemic and it is estimated that it will continue to grow in line with technological development.
A research carried out in March 2020 for the Irish Medical Council suggested that only 4% of the population had ever used a telemedicine service. A similar research in October of the same year showed that over a quarter of the adult (25%) population had used a telemedicine service. Of those, 68% used telephone consultations, the remaining 32% used video consultations. And 80% reported were either satisfied or very satisfied.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine can be defined as the use of technology, via telephones, websites, apps, or other communication platforms to provide healthcare services by a medical practitioner to their patients.
Advantages of telemedicine
The greatest and the most important advantage at the present moment, is the maintenance of social distance as a preventive measure for the spread of covid19. Telemedicine allows a safer appointment for both clinicians and patients.
In addition to convenience, reduction of travel costs for patients, reduction of canceled appointments, flexible appointment times, ease of use and maintenance of the consultation medical standards. It also enables vulnerable individuals to safely access medical care and accessibilty for people living in isolated areas.
As telemedicine is provided remotely, this allows healthcare professionals great flexibility, not only when making appointments but also when choosing where to work in this area.
Telemedicine can be used in many ways, online consultation with the general practitioners, consultations with specialists, follow up after surgeries which allow the clinicians to monitor the progress of the patient, patient screening and referral to different healthcare facilities and many more. It also allows clinicians to view digital images from the patients faster and clearer and discuss clinical cases remotely.
Another great advantage of telemedicine is the electronic prescription, from doctors to their patients, eliminating the need for a paper prescription. Another great feature is the appointments reminders, that almost every telemedicine systems have.
Limitations of telemedicine
Potential limitations of telemedicine include emergency situations that need immediate assistance, or the impossibility of carrying out an accurate physical examination of the patient as the medical professional would do in person.
There are also many patients who do not feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics via phone or video call and are also concerned about their privacy.
Another limitation is the limited access to technological devices that allow these consultations to be carried out properly, not all patients have good telephones, tables, computers or good internet connection. Not everybody knows how to use these devices, especially the older people and many low-income patients.
There is also the economic limitation in paying for consultations, particularly nowadays, that many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and canceled their health insurances.
Online resources for practitioners and patients
At the end of 2020, the Irish Medical Council launched a new online resource for doctors about telemedicine. The guide contains information and practical advice for doctors who use telemedicine and includes topics such as obtaining patient consent for telemedicine and protecting patient confidentiality.
In November last year, the Irish Medical Council also published a new resource on access to telemedicine for patients. The resource can be accessed here.
During and after the pandemic, access to online health services will become part of the "new normal", with telemedicine on the rise, with consultations made over the phone or on video call platforms like Zoom or Skype. This Pandemic has been a great challenge for a long list of sectors but it may pave the way for innovation that would not have come to fruition without lockdowns.