Is it a healthy future for Telemedicine?

23 January 2023

Telemedicine makes it possible to deliver healthcare at home remotely without visiting a doctor or hospital in person. Imagine answering emergency responses, catering to cardiac arrests medical emergencies and providing life-saving solutions for extreme medical conditions. If all of this could be done in a few minutes through a video call or while in the ambulance, this could decrease wait time and increase chances of survival, especially in life-threatening cases.

The future of telemedicine depends so much on technology and the manner in which such technology will be made possible, especially in rural or remote areas and regions.

Telemedicine developing towards a better future

During the COVID pandemic, many people were required to make virtual visits over on-site doctor visits in Canada and also in the United States. Although telemedicine was here much before the pandemic, it has only accelerated further to grow. 

Current advancements in telemedicine include:

  • Remote healthcare monitoring: where electronic devices are used to record medical data and personal health data in one place for review by a specialist in another place. 
  • Mobile health services: where public health information is given through the mobile device. Be it notifications, reminders, targeted text, disease outbreaks or educational information, all the information given to mobile users is intended to serve a good purpose. 

Telemedicine today has become a reality and continuously evolves towards a better future because of technology, the internet and wireless network transmissions. 

The future for telemedicine already seems bright, with the predicted increase in the global telemedicine market size. It is estimated to increase by nearly 460 billion U.S. dollars by 2030. Also, many more countries will adopt telemedicine and remote healthcare systems; this trend has already begun in Asia-Pacific region.

The role of digital information and communications technology in telemedicine

Even when we plan a remote consultation with a doctor, it isn’t just our laptop or computer that is needed. Telemedicine heavily depends on technology; the more advanced the technology, the better its outcomes. Technology covers everything from the science and automation used in telemedicine to the devices needed for establishing connections between 2 locations.

The smart, efficient and reliable digital technology called “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) is the science behind the automation of telemedicine. AI-generated response systems make telemedicine possible. While we understand how significantly AI technology is increasing, the real challenge is to be able to use this technology to make it accessible in rural areas. 

Connected devices such as laptops or computers are prerequisites to establishing connectivity. Good cameras inbuilt into such devices are also crucial for a better user experience, especially in videoconferencing sessions. The most important however, is the wireless and satellite communications that make it possible to connect devices in 2 or more different locations, this is crucial when it concerns remote locations. Robust connectivity ensures no lags, interruptions or delays while in the process of important calls or video sessions. 

A reliable wireless internet connection is indispensable to have access to a great remote healthcare system. We’ve seen telemedicine currently operating with 4G (4th generation) wireless networks but there have been some speed limitations and connectivity issues in some locations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that“people who live in rural areas of the United States are more likely than urban residents to die prematurely from all of the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke”.  Better connectivity in these areas will facilitate the possibility and accessibility of telehealth to increase their chances of surviving rather than losing their lives prematurely. 

Can we get more reliable connectivity that is faster and more accessible, especially in rural areas, in places where people most need telemedicine? What does our healthy future look like for telemedicine?

Implementing 5G in healthcare–a healthier future for telemedicine worldwide

Given the rapid rate at which technology is evolving, it is safe to predict telemedicine will only improve because of the rapidly evolving digital information and communications technology. 

Even though some rural areas still struggle with connectivity issues with the current network systems that operate today, with the implementation and use of 5G wireless networks, it is predicted that telemedicine will improve significantly in the next 7 to 8 years.

Globally, telecommunication companies are expanding access to 5G networks, making telemedicine more affordable and realistic, even for rural locations. For the past few years, almost every major U.S. carrier has focused heavily on 5G cellular wireless. They all follow some common standards, but each has its own approach to implementation. 

Let’s explore how implementing 5G worldwide would enhance the future of telemedicine to make it better:

Enhanced speeds

A “specification sheet” lays down expectations that a 5G network would provide. It roughly says that the expected individual use speeds are close to 2 Gbps (gigabits per second) as compared to the current 4G networks that in most places, offer speeds from 42 Mbps (megabits per second), with speeds going up to 150 Mbps. 

What does this mean? 5G offers higher speeds, meaning faster sharing, downloading and uploading of files. This also means faster video streaming with no pauses, interruptions or delays. 

Larger capacities

Probably the most crucial part of a better network like 5G with enhanced speeds is its ability to support many devices simultaneously. More specifically, 5G connectivity supports 1 million connected devices for every 0.38 square miles.

A network as efficient as this will support billions of devices that need connectivity, like smart devices, sensors, wearables and much more at once! 

Greater response time

With the current 4G connectivity, there is still some lag between sending and receiving messages. Even though 4G connectivity is much faster than 3G and 2G networks, the 5G network is predicted to supersede the expectations of all previous network generations.

Implementing 5G will see close to zero latency, which means almost no delays or lags with messages exchanged to cell towers. Hence high-quality connectivity and speeds of transmission.

Emergency medicine made better

If we realise what all of this means for emergency medicine, we will understand how life-changing this will be in the future. According to a survey published in September 2021, 55% of those who took the survey said they would delay their care due to the COVID-19 pandemic if there was no access to telehealth, but imagine what would happen to those who needed emergency care!

Enhanced emergency medicine allows doctors to treat patients remotely without delay. Greater visuals and video clarity for better assessment and accurate treatments may be possible even as patients are being transported via ambulance. 

Improvements in other technology 

Extended healthcare and video technology access using higher resolution 4k (4000 pixels) web cameras that give clear images for inpatient monitoring, mobile carts and telemedicine kits. The newer 8k resolution cameras have come into the market for professional videography. It will be no surprise if the same cameras can be used in mobile devices in the future. With higher-resolution cameras and 5G connectivity, it will be possible to see very small details through videos with great speeds and no breakdowns.

This powerful combination of the super-efficient 5G and higher-quality video technology will make telemedicine popular and possibly the most preferred method for future specialists to save lives. 

The good news for us is that parts of the U.S. have begun already implementing “5G telehealth”, the results of which are already very promising. This marks the beginning of advancements in telemedicine, even in rural areas. For instance, today 5G telehealth focuses on faster video streaming with more healthcare features and no pauses and delays in between. Possibly in future, it may involve the use of advanced highly secured systems that:

  • Allows early diagnoses of certain medical diseases.
  • Helps first responders provide more efficient lifesaving measures under the guidance of experts and specialist doctors.
  • Make possible conversations between a team of specialists around the world to assess rare conditions to treat them effectively.
  • Mediates safe prescription of medication for treatments.
  • Provides more extensive care for acute medical conditions.
  • Facilitates conversations with patients that are better than in-person visits. 

The advantages and enhancements are only growing, there is no doubt that lives will be saved. Faster file transfers, reduced wait time for treatments and more patients having more comprehensive access to specialists are a few of the many smaller benefits of a high-speed efficient wireless network system like 5G. 

The future of telemedicine seems very promising! In addition to improving outcomes, rapid assessment and triage will prevent patients from going to the hospital for care they don't need.

Soon remote areas will no longer be confined to their geographical limitations because healthcare will be accessible to all who need it with no interruptions or delays. Thanks to advancements in technology and connectivity, which undoubtedly will make telemedicine a huge success. 

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