The 21st Century House Call: How Telemedicine is Changing Our Society
Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Star Trek has likely dreamt about the possibilities of telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of ill or wounded patients. And yet, you may be surprised to learn that this dream pre-dates the classic science-fiction television show. As far back as the 1920s, telemedicine has been touted as the future of medical treatment in such publications as Science and Invention.
It appears that we may finally be at the dawn of this new age of medicine. Though in its infancy, telemedicine is being realized in a multitude of ways, including military medicine, treatment in rural areas and faster diagnostics through wireless communication. Could we be on the cusp of a new era in medical treatment?
Improved Medicine Through Improved Technology
Not surprisingly, technological improvements have made telemedicine possible, particularly in the fields of electronic data storage and wireless transmission. Through wireless communication, doctors can teleconference with other doctors or patients anywhere in the world.
If a doctor maintains a particular specialty, he or she no longer has to travel to the patient to diagnose him or her – so long as the appropriate tools are in place, of course. This is where telemedicine is limited; the technology exists, but like so many things, the key is distributing these tools to where they are needed.
The Tools of the Trade
One such device, recently approved by the FDA for use in hospitals, is the RP-VITA, manufactured by iRobot, of Roomba fame. This autonomously controlled robot is not unlike what you would see in one of those aforementioned Star Trek episodes. Standing at nearly six feet in height, it includes a monitor for a “face,” that projects an image of the doctor. It is anthropomorphic enough to be comforting, but sufficiently mechanical so as to not fall victim to the “uncanny valley” phenomenon. And best of all, it can be used for pre-op, surgery and post-op needs.
Another helpful tool currently in development is a smartphone app that can transmit invaluable diagnostic information to the hospital from the field, including from an in-motion ambulance. Using the device, doctors can diagnose the patient before he or she ever arrives at the hospital, so that adequate treatment can be prepared. The app demonstrates perfectly the benefits of taking advantage of and adapting existing technology; instead of building a proprietary hardware device that could take years to bring to market, the team behind the app built upon a device that’s already in the hands of millions – the iPhone.
The Future of Medicine
What the future holds for medicine is anyone’s guess; it must be recognized that though such tools exist, that does not mean that they are being implemented in every market or are of benefit to every patient. The quality of care differs from continent to continent, country to country, and even county to county. But the developments of such tools are hugely beneficial; as with all technologies, mass adoption eventually results in lower prices, and lower prices mean that more individuals will eventually be able to benefit from such technology.