Telemedicine: The Computer’s Transformation of Healthcare

Telemedicine: The Computer’s Transformation of Healthcare

The July 11, 2015, edition of the New York Times reported that some users of telemedicine services can recoup costs through their medical insurance. That insurance story may be important, yet it’s not the big story. The big story is that healthcare is now on the threshold of two ground-breaking developments, and both are made possible by computer technology. The first is telemedicine, a subset of which is called “virtual doctor visits,” or “virtual consultation,” and the second is “big data.”

In a virtual consultation, a doctor remotely diagnoses a condition by speaking to the patient using a system such as Skype, and conducting a visual examination with the computer’s camera. The doctor may then prescribe medication and email or fax the prescription to the patient’s local pharmacy. Technically, this is telemedicine, but telemedicine’s future promise extends far beyond today’s virtual doctor visits.

To a limited extent, advanced telemedicine systems already exist. They include remote patient monitoring technology (RPM). RPM is currently used mainly to monitor the physiological parameters of patients with existing chronic illnesses like congenital heart failure and diabetes. These systems usually check blood pressure, blood glucose level, and blood oxygen saturation. RPM is also used to monitor patients with dementia. Sensors affixed to canes and walkers detect patients’ locations, and by clever measurement of their gait, linear acceleration and angular velocity, determine the likelihood of them falling, and so alert care personnel.

As impressive as this technology may be, the future envisaged by some visionary medical scientists is truly ast