Despite a competitive global marketplace, telehealth fosters cooperation and medical codependency for patient-centered programming as a novel necessity and viable commodity for medical tourism. Due to its flexible nature, thousands of disciplines and therapies will soon be applying telehealth methods to their curricula.
Telehealth is already making great strides due to its ability to create easy-to-use systems that lower costs, communicate globally, integrate traditional and modern treatments, coordinate all information into a “cloud” database, enhance privacy and security, provide overall convenience and provide treatment to and information from anywhere in the world.
For medical tourism, this means a new opportunity for growth, access to medical specialty development, creative application of traditional and modern healthcare methods, increased travel for patients and specialists, substantial research and development programs, competition and a more cooperative effort between foreign entities and healthcare providers.
By definition, “telehealth” utilizes new technologies for more efficient and effective means of healthcare. Telehealth provides the most extensive database available, with data, video, images, and more all stored on servers, the web, or in the “cloud.” The data can then be easily shared and accessible, enabling interaction between reliable and secure sources from anywhere in the world in interpretable language. Telehealth delivery covers such programs as pre-care consultations or physical exams between long-distance providers over the Internet or the use of robotic technology for more extensive personal care. Real-time tracking and remote monitoring keep patients and healthcare providers connected and up-to-date on patient care.
Telehealth and telemedicine are similar, but they are not the same and are often confused. Telemedicine focuses on medical consultations and clinical services using new technology, whereas telehealth delivers the treatment, services and information by applying more sophisticated, integrated technology systems. It can serve many functions in terms of preventative and remedial processes while providing solutions to continuous healthcare regime challenges. Telehealth thereby actually lends itself to a more extensive market for telemedicine services. The combined use of telehealth and telemedicine creates a unique situation for a true global medical marketplace allowing foreign entities to
1) express themselves in terms of specialties to be utilized by and applied in a larger marketplace,
2) provide more extensive coordination of care,
3) advance and share medical research and development quickly,
4) work collaboratively on healthcare challenges as they evolve, and
5) compete effectively by creating higher standards and more specialized levels of healthcare.
Benefits of Telehealth
The benefits of telehealth are numerous. Telehealth is a patient-centered application whereby all patients and caregivers benefit from world-class service that’s literally available at their fingertips. Extensive assessments and opinions can be coordinated and accessed by patients and others from home, work and even during travel. Patients and their families can compare treatments and care in order to properly address their concerns and make their decisions. This provides a comfort level when traveling for leisure or medical purposes. When travel is not an option, patients and care givers can benefit from remote services which can enhance local healthcare programs and regiments.
Since its initial application, telehealth has allowed for efficiency, cost effectiveness, continuity of care and elimination of waste and potential for error. Healthcare providers communicate in real time with other healthcare providers, specialists and patients as well as with insurance companies and family members, depending on the treatment and agreements. Reactions from treatments are detected immediately. Response time, hospital stays, recovery time and time away from home or work are reduced. Information is updated continuously in real time, allowing for continuous benchmark and baseline data to be easily available 24/7 at a minimal cost all year long.
By using telehealth, healthcare providers are able to track progress and make quick decisions while sharing information in a shorter period of time. The use of special data storage programs and units through cloud computing enables unlimited amounts of data to be stored safely and accessed securely. Even if a system crashes or electricity goes out, the information will still be stored, updated and accessible. Finally, since the cloud has no actual physical home, it can be accessed anywhere in the world.
This changes the dynamics of healthcare and allows for new mobile medical programs that were never before thought possible. Medical breakthroughs can be shared instantaneously and effortlessly for urgent needs and emergencies. Even when unprecedented health issues arise, governments, healthcare providers and specialists can tap into an immediate collaborative effort while identifying reliable resources that are readily available for all emergencies.
Real-time tracking is perhaps the most unique benefit in telehealth to date. Real-time tracking by way of new technology connects patients and healthcare providers continuously, adding to accountability and compliance while eliminating confusion, human error and waste in the healthcare process. Situations such as uncertainty caused by multiple prescriptions and the containers in which they come in often result in under- or overdosing, wasting time in healthcare recovery and possibly repeating the whole program or adding even more prescriptions to correct new problems. When telehealth is correctly applied, the health regiment is followed more closely by both the patient and the healthcare provider.
When the health regiment is accurately followed, follow-up consultations are minimized, follow-up treatments as a result of noncompliance and repetitive treatments are eliminated, and risks are lowered across the board. In some cases, new telehealth applications can actually cut treatment timelines, allowing patients and healthcare providers to move forward in other directions for overall good health. The loop is a closed one and will continue to be sustainable for as long as the patient and healthcare provider require. When a system is closed and waste, cost and risk factors are lowered, and both healthcare providers and patients benefit from lower insurance and medical costs.
In addition to tracking the patient’s compliance, the new medical devices and programs track valuable information efficiently for medical research and development use. Authorized groups can extract anonymous statistics from the cloud for a wide range of research and development purposes. Resources and more research can be added in real time to produce beneficial programs for worldwide applications and continual development of care.
Implications for Medical Tourism
Services are already the most important competitive edge for medical tourism dollars. Since geographical areas provide a variety of treatments and facilities, service and safety standards are the focal point and primary concern, eliciting an element of care and comfort that is only available through telehealth and complimented by medical tourism.
Countries are able to compete and build up medical tourism more effectively by concentrating on specialty programs and developments that provide comfort for the patient and care givers. Patients who could not travel due to medical reasons will now have more opportunity to travel and may even travel further.
Should a patient decide to travel under medical treatment or for medical treatment, telehealth provides an easy and quick transfer of pertinent, substantial and reliable medical records, allowing ample time for preparation procedures for pre- and post-application. Complete, secure and extensive records already organized and stored in the cloud are easily accessed and appropriately interpreted. Prior to and during travel, virtual meetings can occur to build patient comfort and awareness levels regarding accreditations and competence, second opinions, new treatments and cutting edge combinations of treatments and opinions available from various and remote locations.
Patient-planning may include pre-screening of facilities, medical expertise and costs. All interested parties can sufficiently apply and implement compliance and validation procedures from the onset. Remote monitoring and follow-up health regiments can then continue anywhere in the world through the application of new telehealth procedures. Post-procedural remote monitoring, essential for patient safety and comfort, will alleviate any complications and provide real-time updates to healthcare providers and families in various locations.
Patient warnings and precautions can be programmed into the system for daily communication to lower risk even more. Service increases, costs and risks are lowered, and managed care becomes a team approach.
Telehealth creates a unique opportunity for medical tourism to take a more “center stage” approach by building relationships around the technology and providing forums in various countries whereby specific geographical matters can be addressed as they evolve. As telehealth tightens its partnership with medical tourism, enhancement and exposure to new medical possibilities will continue to provide better treatment and easy access to a variety of types of treatment while eliminating barriers.
Telehealth enhances the quality each provider and facility offers and gives patients access to knowledge about and care from those entities. Facilities and providers become individually branded based on their level of service, cost, unique offerings, expertise and creative solutions. Physicians all over enjoy connectivity and enhancement of their own offerings. With the cost and time savings, patients can add additional medical and leisure programs to further their safety measures and lengthens their stay abroad.
Telehealth becomes even more important as patient safety and comfort continue to be the focal point of healthcare concerns. However, as with most new technology and development, there are challenges. Crossing state and national lines means adjusting to regulatory concerns, merging costs and new ways of dealing with knowledge-sharing among public and private entities. The nature of medical business and its effect on local and global economies are adjusting and changing dramatically as they demand immediate reliance on global cooperation. With time, these challenges will work themselves out for the betterment of all concerned.
As the population within the United States ages, the need for specialized and efficient healthcare measures becomes a top priority. As a result, national healthcare initiatives have made unprecedented moves to support and endorse telehealth while positioning the country’s own medical tourism program. Insurance companies and Medicare now cover most programs and offer incentives for implementation. In some cases, the non-use of telehealth treatment may cause liability concerns for all parties in the near future.
While the rising costs of healthcare and shortage of facilities continue to hamper the growth of the medical industry today, telehealth coupled with medical tourism provides new opportunities for tomorrow. Companies and facilities that utilize telehealth methods will have more competitive advantages in the future. Medical tourism companies that get connected will indeed benefit the most, for together both industries set the bar for worldwide quality healthcare.
About the Author
Dr. Kanti Daya is the chief executive and medical officer of DayaMed. He holds two bachelor’s degrees in medicine and surgery from Bangalore University in India, among other educational achievements. He specializes in the identification of life-threatening epidemics, sexually-transmitted diseases, airborne infectious diseases and cardiovascular and cerebrovascualr diseases. Dr. Daya also developed the first PPD test and the syphilis screening test used by the U.S. military. His latest product is the MedPod, a telehealth prescription-drug dosing mechanism that uses a light or audio signal to remind patients when to take their medicine.