Introduction to Telemedicine


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Toluwani Folayan

November 01, 2023

Introduction to Telemedicine

Telemedicine is an aspect of healthcare that involves the use of technology to connect patients with healthcare providers from the comfort of their homes. This approach is reshaping the healthcare sector, leading to advancements in the way technology is utilized in the field of medicine.

In this article, we’ll delve deep into telemedicine, discussing both the cons and the pros. We’ll also discuss the various ways in which telemedicine is exerting its influence on our world today, as well as its implications for the future of healthcare. Let's get started!



  • What is Telemedicine
  • What is Telehealth
  • History of telemedicine
  • Types of Telemedicine
  • Benefits of telemedicine
  • Disadvantages of telemedicine
  • Future of Telemedicine


What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a healthcare service that allows patients to receive medical care from a distance, using technology to connect with healthcare providers for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases.  It is, however, important to note that, as excellent as this might seem, it does not replace face-to-face consultation with health providers when the need arises but can be a way of complimenting it.

Here's how telemedicine typically operates: Patients schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider through an online platform. When the appointment time arrives, a digital app is used to start the interaction, usually via video or phone call. During the session, patients describe their symptoms and provide essential medical information. Healthcare providers gather this information and access the patient's medical history. They can prescribe medications and send the prescriptions directly to pharmacies for the patient's convenience. Additionally, a follow-up appointment may be scheduled to monitor the patient's progress. If the patient's condition doesn't improve or requires a physical examination, an in-person visit to the hospital may be recommended.


What is Telehealth?

According to HRSA, Telehealth is defined as the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, health administration, and public health.

While the terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle distinction between the two. Telemedicine primarily focuses on clinical services involving remote diagnosis, treatment, and consultations between healthcare providers and patients. On the other hand, telehealth is a broader term that involves clinical services but also extends to non-clinical functions such as administrative meetings, healthcare provider training, and ongoing medical education.

In simple terms, all telemedicine services fall under the broader category of telehealth. Telemedicine specifically deals with clinical care, while telehealth involves a wider range of healthcare-related activities.

History Of Telemedicine

The origins of telemedicine can be traced back to the 19th century, when telecommunication infrastructure, including the telegraph and telephone, allowed the use of remote medical communication. During the American Civil War, telegraphs were used to report casualties and request medical supplies, marking an early adoption of telemedicine. By 1879, The Lancet discussed how the telephone could reduce unnecessary office visits, hinting at the transformation of patient care.

In the 20th century, telemedicine continued to evolve. In 1922, Dr. Hugo Gernsback thought of a device called the "Teledactyl", which could allow physicians to see and touch patients remotely through television screens and robot arms. Radiologic images were transmitted via telephone in 1948, and in 1959, interactive television enabled neurological examinations to be conducted across campuses. Remote consultations, videoconferencing, and remote monitoring also found their roots in these developments.  

In recent times, telemedicine has become successful because of advancements in technology over the last hundred years. These advancements have transformed how healthcare works, making it easier for both patients and physicians to get the help they need. Simply put, it means that you can now see a doctor or get medical advice using phones or computers, making healthcare more convenient and accessible.


Types of Telemedicine

Telemedicine can be classified into four main types. These include:

1. Live Interactive (Synchronous):

In this type of telemedicine, patients and healthcare providers engage in real-time communication using video conferencing tools or phone calls. During these live interactions, patients share information about their health, and physicians can assess their condition. Depending on the assessment, physicians may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications. It's important that the information shared remains confidential and complies with the regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).


2. Store and Forward:

This is also known as asynchronous telemedicine. Here, physicians transmit important medical data from one healthcare provider to another, often a specialist. The data shared may include diagnostic tests, pre-recorded videos, X-rays, and other relevant information. This data is transmitted securely. The specialist then reviews the information and responds at a later time.


3. Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM):

This type of telemedicine is widely used, especially for patients with chronic conditions. It involves the regular collection of patient health data, such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels, from patients who have been discharged from the hospital. Patients or their caregivers collect this data and transmit it to healthcare providers for assessment. RPM is vital for managing chronic illnesses, allowing healthcare providers to closely monitor patients' health and intervene when necessary to ensure effective management of their disease.


4. Mobile Health  (mHealth):

Mobile telemedicine involves the use of mobile devices like smartphones and computers to facilitate communication and information exchange between patients and healthcare providers. Physicians use this type of telemedicine to provide healthcare education, conduct consultations, and maintain communication with patients. Mobile health apps and services can also be used to alert users about disease epidemics, ensuring they stay informed and take appropriate precautions.


Benefits of Telemedicine

1. Comfort and Convenience:

Patients can access healthcare services from the comfort of their homes, eliminating the need for long and often stressful journeys to healthcare facilities. This convenience greatly enhances the patient experience.


2. Reduced exposure to communicable diseases:

Telemedicine helps minimize the risk of exposure to contagious diseases like COVID-19 or measles, as patients are not required to be physically present in crowded healthcare settings. This reduces the potential for contact with infected individuals.


3. Management of Chronic Diseases:

Telemedicine offers an effective means of monitoring patients with chronic illnesses. Physicians can regularly assess their health and provide necessary guidance, contributing to better disease management.


4. Reduces Cancellations:

Since treatment is virtual, patients mostly adhere to these appointments, reducing disruptions in the continuity of care and improving healthcare outcomes.

5. Health Education:

Telemedicine helps patients receive health information through various platforms, such as messages or emails. This aspect of telemedicine allows individuals to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.


6. Increased Access:

Telemedicine helps patients have access to healthcare services. Patients no longer need to endure long waiting lines or multiple visits to see a healthcare provider. This is particularly beneficial for individuals living in rural areas who gain access to quality healthcare services that might have been otherwise unavailable.


7. Saves Time:

Telemedicine improves the healthcare process by providing healthcare providers with all the necessary patient information before scheduled appointments. This helps save time for both patients and healthcare professionals. Patients don't have to repeat their medical history and symptoms during appointments, and physicians can make quicker, more informed decisions.


Disadvantages of Telemedicine

1. Security Breaches:

Telemedicine involves sharing information online, which can be vulnerable to hackers. This poses a significant threat as cyber attackers may access patients' confidential data.


2. Incomplete Assessment:

Due to most information being conveyed online, doctors might not have a complete understanding of a patient's condition, potentially leading to incorrect diagnoses and less effective treatment.


3. Technical Problems:

Issues like poor internet connections can disrupt video or phone appointments, causing frustration for both patients and doctors and possibly leaving the consultation incomplete.


4. Limited physical examination:

Patients do not have access to see a physician face-to-face. This can limit thorough evaluation and affect the quality of treatment.


5. Insurance and Payment Issues:

Figuring out how insurance covers telemedicine and how much it costs can be confusing. Some doctors might also have trouble getting paid for telemedicine visits. This can make it uncertain and potentially more expensive for patients, and some doctors might not offer telemedicine because of these challenges.


Future Trends in Telemedicine

Telemedicine is continually growing, and the future has several interesting trends to come. These include:

1. Artificial Intelligence:

AI is set to have a profound impact on telemedicine. It involves the use of automation to provide medical diagnoses, treatment plans, and medication recommendations. AI can also help in early detection of disease, enabling prompt patient care.


2. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Applications:

VR and AR have brought about great changes in the telemedicine sector. This technology helps to increase interaction and communication between providers and patients. Patients can access medical care from the comfort of their homes without in-person visits. VR and AR have diverse applications in training, patient treatment, and hospital management.

Statistics reveal that in 2018, the North American healthcare augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) sector had an estimated worth of $477 million and is  projected that by 2025, this value will see a substantial surge, reaching approximately $4.64 billion.


3. Blockchain Technology:

Blockchain technology helps the telemedicine industry by improving data security, patient confidentiality, and data sharing, all of which are important in the sector. It ensures that patient information is accessed only with their consent, facilitating secure and authorized sharing among healthcare providers, which ultimately improves patient care. Additionally, blockchain technology provides a transparent record of medical transactions, increasing trust and transparency in telemedicine services.


4. Internet of Things:

IoT solutions connect patients with their physicians, enabling remote monitoring of patient's health status from home. This technology enhances patient convenience and reduces the need for frequent hospital visits.



Telemedicine has emerged as a game changer in healthcare, offering numerous benefits, including increased access to medical care, convenience for patients, and the potential to reduce healthcare costs. It was especially valued during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, by enabling remote consultations and monitoring. However, challenges can occur that are related to technical problems, incomplete assessments, and security delays. Telemedicine is an evolving field, and with continued integration and enhancements, there is a huge possibility of continued success in later times.


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