Telemedicine is an emerging field in healthcare that uses telecommunication technologies to share medical data and video conferencing to deliver healthcare services remotely. In rural areas, it is difficult for patients to access quality healthcare services due to the distance from hospitals and other health centres. Telemedicine solutions help bridge this gap by providing visual and audio communication with a doctor from a remote location.
Telemedicine can empower the rural population and help them access state-of-the-art healthcare by connecting them with specialist doctors over video or telephone calls, thus bridging the gap between urban and rural areas.
Our country has a huge disparity in healthcare distribution. According to estimates, 75% of Indians living in rural villages require the services of doctors in urban areas, with 620 million of these people in need of basic healthcare. Only a small portion of the Indian government's healthcare budget is allocated for providing healthcare in rural areas, and doctors cannot provide proper care in these areas due to a lack of infrastructure.
Furthermore, it is imperative to address the diverse essential services and components of medical care throughout the country. There is one doctor for every 1,457 Indian citizens, while the ratio may be as low as one doctor for every 25,000 people in rural India. Telemedicine might just be the answer to rural India's biggest challenge: access to quality healthcare. A telemedicine service offers healthcare providers, patients, planners, and doctors a fast and easy method of exchanging patient information, symptomatic measures, and therapeutic interventions.
Telehealth programs are expanding around the globe, and companies are adopting off-the-shelf equipment like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and webcams. Additionally, several electronic devices, peripherals, and other devices are used to transmit and receive important data. Some of the key technologies used in telemedicine are:
1) Monitoring kit for remote patients:
With a stable internet connection, these kits include blood pressure monitors, measuring scales, glucometers, etc. Other mobile devices, such as tablets, mobile kiosks, and smartphones, are also used for measuring vital stats.
2) Field kits and telemedicine carts:
Kits and systems like these offer all the essential tools and equipment needed at an emergency or a patient's site. A few of these components are x-ray machines, computers, and peripherals.
Several peripheral devices capture an image and transmit it through an electronic medium for further assessment and diagnosis, including ophthalmoscopes, stethoscopes, dermoscopic devices, and otoscopes. Real-time access to these images and storage for future reference is available.
4) Video-conferencing setup:
Video-conferencing software, a camera, or a smart device such as a cell phone or tablet are all needed for this setup. This technology enables face-to-face communication between doctors and patients. Additionally, the doctors use this setup to conduct administrative meetings, provide additional assistance to colleagues and senior doctors, give academic webinars, and perform clinical encounters.
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A value-based healthcare system depends heavily on medical adherence and reconciliation to ensure patients receive the best care. In order to achieve this goal entirely, telemedicine needs to become more flexible and accessible. In addition to helping the rural population, telehealth and telemedicine programs benefit people who cannot move, have mental health issues, have substance abuse issues, or have limited proficiency in the local language.
Telemedicine in itself has several advantages, but it has some unique advantages in rural areas, especially for healthcare providers who face several challenges every day. Here are a few of them:
1) Affecting social determinants:
In telemedicine, social hindrances are overcome to improve the treatment outcome. It aids the service providers in providing care in far-away areas not served by public transportation due to geographical location. Saving on travel expenses and other financial aspects also contributes to economic stability in the region. With the development of the healthcare industry, these factors improve patient engagement and user satisfaction.
2) Accessibility issues:
With telemedicine, remote areas can now access healthcare services and the healthcare system can reach remote areas. Rural areas currently lack access to clinics and hospitals. Therefore, the patient faces significant challenges because of the travel time and distance. Additionally, an excessive number of patients per doctor results in a long wait time at the clinic. These long waits result in patients missing their doses of medicine and treatment, causing their health to deteriorate. As a result, telemedicine improves the overall scenario of rural healthcare, as it helps to send medical help through electronic communication between the healthcare providers and the patients.
3) Medication compliance:
If a patient is on medication or suffering from a chronic illness, it is essential to keep track of their vitals. It is also difficult for rural residents to access distant healthcare facilities. The provider can monitor the patient's health remotely with the help of telemedicine in such cases. When patients start feeling better, they become lazy and careless and cease taking the medication. As a result, the disease is more likely to recur. However, with this remote access technology, patients are reminded and monitored to finish their medication courses and avoid medication errors.
4) Timely care and Comfort:
Through telemedicine software, doctors and patients are constantly connected to provide instant care. As a result, it provides convenience for both doctors and patients. As they can communicate and interact with each other remotely without needing to be physically present in the clinic, it provides comfort to both parties.
Telemedicine and telehealth solutions have the potential to improve rural healthcare and provide quality care to millions of rural residents. Although still in their infancy, these solutions can offer much-needed economic opportunity, accessibility, and improved quality of care for rural areas in India.