Future of Medicine Blog Series - Part V: Telehealth

by Emily Podmore, August 2, 2013

Telehealth is a broad field that encompasses a number of practices that use telecommunications throughout the medical field. It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term telemedicine, which actually refers more narrowly to curative aspects of telehealth. Nurse call centers, two health care professionals consulting via video-chat, and remote monitoring of vital signs all fall under the telehealth umbrella, and as our smart phones get smarter, so do telehealth technologies and trends. One of the most forward-thinking practices within the field is that of robot-assisted telesurgery.

Enter the da Vinci Surgical System. This system translates a surgeons hand movements to smaller, accurate strokes, performing both simple and complicated surgeries with its "arms" and attached instruments. The surgeon is typically in the same room and controlling all actions from a console. This device is the only of its kind on the market and has certainly shaped the world of surgery; however, complications with robot-assisted surgery have arisen and Intuitive Surgical, Inc., the company behind da Vinci, finds itself at the center of allegations and pending law suits.

Robot-assisted surgery still has far to go. In addition to improving current methods, various research groups work to develop machines that will perform surgeries with the surgeon not just in the next room, but across the globe. The fact that this is even a possibility, 10, 15, 20 years down the line is a huge accolade for the field of telehealth.

One of the primary goals of telehealth, as noted by the possibility of remote robot-assisted surgeries mentioned above, is to bring healthcare to all corners of the world, despite socioeconomic status and location. In fact, just last week, Verizon launched a new initiative: a partnership between The Verizon Foundation and Children's Health Fund that aims to bring mobile clinics to several cities, beginning with Miami. The project will utilize technologies such as 4G LTE broadband connections, live video conferencing, and virtual scans and monitoring of patients' vital signs in real time.

The mobile medical clinic will use doctors at the University of Miami and connect them to families who are not able to take the time and money to make a trip to the doctors. The technology allows for more than a simple consultation, but provides health services, virtually, and in real time. The increase in virtual patient-care is ever-growing, as patients no longer need to commute to their specialty doctor in another city each time they need a consultation. Technologies have allowed for follow up care to be performed over the phone or video conference, live.

The age of telemedicine will see a new evolution in the doctor-patient relationship, whether it is through the medium of robot-assisted telesurgery, or real-time video consultations, doctors and patients are connecting through telecommunications more and more, shaping the face of the medical field with each new interaction.

Explore other Future of Medicine Trends Here