What is Telemedicine
Telemedicine is the digital evolution from traditional medicine. It is a social and cultural transformation that aids the remote communication between doctors and patients and facilitates the delivery of healthcare services such as a diagnosis, therapy or remote check ups.
Telemedicine is designed to find new solutions and perspectives for all those with a constantly growing demand for a more efficient, dynamic and technologically advanced healthcare service as well as one closer to its people. Telemedicine is entrusted with the task of providing tools that facilitate communication and interaction between a doctor and a patient, between a doctor and a colleague, to break down geographic and temporal barriers, to compensate for an unequal distribution of healthcare services in a territory, to aid more people (especially those living in remote or near poor healthcare facilities), to speed up bureaucratic and administrative procedures, to help a patient identify a doctor and receive a medical consultation, to simplify the online transfer of medical reports, to allow online viewing of images without quality loss, to eliminate long waiting lists, to ensure quality service and the protection of personal information.
Telemedicine does not substitute traditional medicine but works alongside and integrates new communication channels and innovative technologies with the aim of improving healthcare services and providing people with access to the best possible care.
The World Health Organization WHO describes Telemedicine as:
Telehealth involves the use of telecommunications and virtual technology to deliver health care outside of traditional health-care facilities. Telehealth, which requires access only to telecommunications, is the most basic element of “eHealth,” which uses a wider range of information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Telehealth examples include virtual home health care, where patients such as the chronically ill or the elderly may receive guidance in certain procedures while remaining at home. Telehealth has also made it easier for health care workers in remote field settings to obtain guidance from professionals elsewhere in diagnosis, care and referral of patients. Training can sometimes also be delivered via telehealth schemes or with related technologies such as eHealth, which make use of small computers and internet.
Well-designed telehealth schemes can improve health care access and outcomes, particularly for chronic disease treatment and for vulnerable groups. Not only do they reduce demands on crowded facilities, but they also create cost savings and make the health sector more resilient.
The Italian National guidelines on Telemedicine by the Ministry of Health issued in 2010, are clear in defining the roles and tasks of Telemedicine:
Telemedicine means providing healthcare services by utilizing innovative technologies, such as ICTs, in cases in which healthcare professionals and patients (or two professionals) live in different geographic areas. Telemedicine includes the safe transfer of medical information in text, sound, image or other format for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and subsequent monitoring of patients.
The European Commission, in the European Union policies on Public Health, states that online healthcare:
Is based on tools and services that use information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve prevention, diagnosis, therapy, monitoring and management. It can benefit the whole community by improving access and quality of services as well as by increasing healthcare efficiency. Telemedicine uses: exchange of data and information (between patients, healthcare professionals, hospitals, doctors and clinical networks), electronic medical records, telemedicine services, portable patient monitoring devices, computer programs for the management of hospital facilities, robot assisted surgery and “blue–sky” research on the virtual physiology of a human being.
Telemedicine removes geographic barriers
It is a right of all people, independently of where they live, to obtain the best diagnosis and treatment. Telemedicine aids mainly people living in remote areas such as mountains, islands or areas with poor healthcare coverage, citizens living or travelling abroad, citizens working on ships or on off-shore platforms and anyone that for physical, family or work reasons cannot leave their home town. Telemedicine, regardless of distances, can be a great tool to : accelerate diagnosis and treatment processes, reduce stress and discomfort whenever it is possible to avoid trips to healthcare facilities.
Telemedicine shortens distances and brings healthcare at home and allows patients to seek advice from doctors working in other regions or nations, without having the hassle to travel.
Telemedicine facilitates Teleconsultation
In many cases, doctors can advice and contribute to the diagnostic-therapeutic journey of a patient without ever having to meet him in person, by collecting and analyzing his medical history (symptoms, disturbances, signs), clinical records and previous medical tests (diagnostic reports and images). More and more people, who need a “second opinion” or face difficulties in their therapeutic diagnostic path, rely on Telemedicine to get a quick and qualified opinion from an Ultraspecialista.
Telemedicine offers a specialized consultation to all those who are “connected”
People who for various reasons do not have the ability to move from home, people living abroad or travelling, people living in remote areas or in disadvantaged situations, families with young children, sick people or elderly people who have difficulty moving, hospitalized patients that need a quick second opinion, prisoners, patients with chronic diseases, people who are constrained by their jobs or in general who cannot afford travelling for economical or physical reasons. It can also be useful as a pre-examination tool, where the patient obtains precise indications on which documents, reports or exams should be provided prior to the medical visit. It can also be a valuable tool in sending to a doctor the medical tests required during the visit or which will help produce a final opinion.
The service center is of fundamental importance in Telemedicine activities and in technological solutions. The service center has the main task of organizing, managing and maintaining Information systems.
The Ministerial guidelines state: “The service center does not intervene at the level of clinical responsibility but is accountable for the effective performance of all its tasks, in particular for the integrity and the security of the transmission of health information during Telemedicine activities. As any Information system that handles sensitive data, telemedicine has to comply with the regulatory provisions regarding the handling of personal data.”
Ultraspecialisti is the first Italian service center for telemedicine of highly qualified specialists. Our service has a social calling and focuses on the health and care of the people, responding to the growing need for specialized opinions, facilitating the connection between patients and doctors and between doctors themselves. Ultraspecialisti recognizes the great value, as well as respects and valorizes the excellence of the Italian National Health Service. It has the mission to provide patients with the best possible health, no matter where they live, guaranteeing everyone the chance to find the right doctor for their single case and to consult him remotely.
Ultraspecialisti is the first Italian service center that offers patients the opportunity to access specialized teleconsultations.
Our features are: efficiency, confidentiality, quickness, understanding and respect for the skills at the service of the citizen.
Since the beginning of our journey we have assisted both Italian resident and abroad patients. We have found solutions to support patients that are alone or who are unfamiliar with computer skills. We have welcomed the request of patients from other countries to whom we have provided assistance in order to get the so desired opinion. We have avoided unnecessary trips for many people (even from abroad), reassured many families and confirmed that the taken path was the best one for them, provided medical opinions even on public holidays (in case of particular emergency). Thanks to our service patients have been given access to innovative treatments and technologies. Our Ultraspecialisti have worked in total security and propriety, which has allowed them to express at best their skills.
The medical areas in which it is applicable
At present Telemedicine is developing mainly in Oncology, Cardiology, Pediatrics, Psychology, Radiology, Pneumology, Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Neurology and Orthopedics. Telemedicine is also valuable in the monitoring of chronic diseases, follow-ups, updating a doctor on the clinical journey of a patient, the rehabilitation of patients, the research of rare diseases and aiding in emergency situations.
Regulations on Telemedicine
Telemedicine services must comply with all rights and obligations relating to traditional medicine as well as all the regulations applied to the specific field.
In Italy Telemedicine services are regulated by guidelines on Telemedicine issued by the Ministry of Health. Services have to comply with all the laws regarding the protection of privacy and the handling of sensitive data, as expected by Italian and European laws.
Pros and Cons
Telemedicine is dynamic, fast, reduces waiting times, accessible in remote areas, avoids travelling, reduces long waits in clinical settings, allows for multidisciplinary opinions, enables doctors to give an opinion in any place and at any time, facilitates the interaction between different medical specialists on a single case regardless of the hospital or country in which they operate.
The cons of Telemedicine are that it is still poorly developed, there is distrust from the people for innovation, few doctors apply telemedicine in their medical activities.
Telemedicine in Italy and across the world
Telemedicine has been quickly developing in Italy while has been wide spread for years in many other European Countries such as Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom and Spain.
In Italy there have been numerous ideas and initiatives in response to the needs of patients that have not been covered yet by the National Health Service. The National Health System has not yet fully exploited and developed the services offered by Telemedicine while the private sector has begun to evolve and propose new software, applications, platforms that use the most innovative technologies to spread their services throughout the territory.
The Armed forces have implemented military Telemedicine systems for both military operations and humanitarian missions, while the Civil Defense has developed telemedicine models to handle emergency situations and catastrophes.
The demographic changes in Italy, the new needs of a long-living population that is increasingly involved and informed about health, the increase in chronic diseases, the demand for personalized therapies and the spread of new technological tools, highlight the need to redesign, reorganize and integrate the public health system.
The European Commission is also working to improve online healthcare with the aim on:
“improving the health of citizens by spreading information through online healthcare tools (including abroad); Improving the quality and accessibility of healthcare by integrating online healthcare with healthcare policies and coordinating the political, financial and technological strategies of EU countries; Making online healthcare tools more efficient and easier to use and promote their usage to both professionals and patients when making a strategic choice.”