In broad terms, there are two basic types of telemedicine: remote consultations and remote expertise.
Remote consultations allow patients living in rural areas to be seen by a specialist without traveling hours from home. Using Internet access and some means of transmitting data relevant to their known medical issues, telemedicine allows those with chronic conditions to be regularly “seen” by a specialist.
The University of California, San Francisco, has been providing remote expertise for years as part of a multimillion dollar telemedicine project. Using grant money, equipment has been set up in the homes of patients, with physicians billing for their time, just like regular office visits. By helping rural patients maintain good health, hospital stays are avoided and overall healthcare costs are reduced.
With critical care doctors in short supply and located in regional medical centers, ICUs became the first specialty to turn to the power of telemedicine. Telemedicine allows attending physicians in rural hospitals to consult with specialists at renowned institutions. Care can be even more closely directed via live data streams from patient monitoring devices.
Telemedicine has become routinely used by radiologists, who read medical images transmitted to their homes in the evening, which is far more cost-effective than having a radiologist on staff round-the-clock. Through UCSF’s TeleDerm program, dermatology experts diagnose from securely-transmitted photos and patient histories, enabling patients to be seen much sooner than would be possible by scheduling a traditional appointment.
The Role of Biomedical Engineers
Telemedicine continues to become more sophisticated and more widely accepted. This means that patient data must be transmitted and received both reliably and timely. To make this possible, biomedical engineers are involved in the development of communication technologies, relevant applications and their integration as well as the adaptation and transformation of operating rooms and other medical settings.