What is Telemedicine
Telemedicine is the digital evolution of traditional medicine. It is a social and cultural revolution that aids the remote communication between doctors and patients and facilitates the provision of healthcare services such as a diagnosis, therapy or remote check ups.
Telemedicine is designed to find new solutions and perspectives for the increasing demand for a more efficient, dynamic and technologically advanced healthcare service as well as one closer to the people.
Telemedicine must: provide tools that facilitate communication and interaction between a doctors and patients, as well as between doctors themselves. break down geographic and temporal barriers, to compensate for an unequal geographic distribution of healthcare services, to help more people (especially those living in remote or with poor healthcare facilities), speed up bureaucratic and administrative procedures, help a patient identify and receive medical consultation from a doctor, simplify the online transfer of medical reports, allow online viewing of images without losing quality, eliminate long waiting lists, to ensure quality service and the protection of personal information.
Telemedicine does not substitute traditional medicine but supports and integrates it with new communication channels and innovative technologies with the aim of improving healthcare services and providing people with access to the best possible care. Telemedicine can be considered as one of the key components for improving the health of the population.
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 ssued in 2010, are very clear in defining the roles and tasks of Telemedicine:
Telemedicine means providing healthcare services through the use of innovative technologies, such as ICTs, in cases in which healthcare professionals and patients (or two professionals) are not in the same location. Telemedicine includes the safe transfer of medical information in text, sound, image or other formats 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 is an opportunity
Telemedicine eliminates geographical barriers
Getting the best diagnosis and treatment is a right of all people regardless of where they live. Telemedicine comes to the rescue most of people living in remote areas such as in the mountains, on islands or areas with poor healthcare coverage, citizens living or travelling abroad, citizens working on ships or on off-shore oil rigs and anyone that for physical, family or work reasons cannot leave their home town. Regardless of distance, Telemedicine can be a great tool to: accelerate diagnosis and treatment, reduce stress and discomfort whenever it is possible without having to go to to healthcare facilities.
Telemedicine shortens distance and brings healthcare to the home allowing patients to seek advice from doctors working in other regions or nations, without the hassle of travel.
Telemedicine facilitates Teleconsultation
In many cases, doctors can advise and contribute to path of diagnosis and therapy of a patient without ever having to meet him in person, by collecting and analysing his medical history (symptoms, disturbances, signs), clinical records and previous medical tests (diagnostic reports and images). Moreover it is increasingly common for people, who need a “second opinion" or face difficulties in their path of diagnosis and therapy, to 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, hospitalised patients that need a quick second opinion, 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 to send to a doctor the medical tests required for an examination or which will help finalise an opinion.
How it works
The service centre is of fundamental importance in Telemedicine services and for technological solutions in healthcare. The service center has the main task of organising, 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. Like any Information system that handles sensitive data, telemedicine has to comply with the rules and regulations regarding the handling of personal data."
Ultraspecialisti is the irst Italian service centre for telemedicine of highly qualified specialists. Our service has a social calling and focuses on the health and care of the individual, responding to the growing need for specialised opinions, facilitating the connection between patients and doctors and between doctors themselves. Ultraspecialisti recognises the great worth, as well as respecting and giving value to the excellence of the Italian National Health Service. Its mission is to provide patients with the best possible health, no matter where they live, ensuring that everyone can find the right doctor for their individual case and to consult him or her remotely.
Ultraspecialisti is the first Italian service centre that offers patients the opportunity to access specialised teleconsultations.
Our features are: efficiency, confidentiality, speed, understanding and respect for the skills at the service of the citizen.
From the beginning we have assisted both Italian and patients who are resident abroad. We have found solutions to help patients who are alone or unfamiliar with computer skills. We have welcomed the request of patients from other countries to whom we have provided assistance to obtain the medical opinion they so desired. We have avoided unnecessary trips for many people (even from abroad), reassured many families and confirmed that the path taken was the best one for them, provided medical opinions even on public holidays (in cases of particular urgency). 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 themselves at their best.
The Art of Telemedicine
The medical areas in which it is applicable
At present Telemedicine is gaining ground 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 change of the 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, according to Italian and European law.
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.
Telemedicine in Italy and worldwide
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 whilst 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 disasters.
The demographic changes in Italy, the new needs of a population that lives longer that is increasingly involved and informed about health, the increase in chronic diseases, the demand for personalised therapies and the spread of new technological tools, highlight the need to redesign, reorganise and integrate the public health system.
The European Commission is also working to improve online healthcare with the aim of :
“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."