Technology-based innovations in the 21st Century have left a huge impact in the world of medicine. While the compartmentalization of data is a more well-known technological benefit in today’s healthcare, another important convenience is that of communication. Pagers are a ubiquitous device found in hospitals all around the world, and emails (and digital networks in general) have sped up the transmission of medical data between different departments.
While the internal benefits of electronics-backed communication are evident, how has the advancements of the digital age affect the way doctors and physicians converse with each other?
Communication History and the Advent of Telehealth
It’s amazing how communication has evolved over the past hundred years. Before the latter half of the 20th century, when the important cornerstones of the burgeoning information age (computers, wireless communication, portable, etc) where being established, long-distance communication was conducted via written documents delivered through physical means. Telegrams, couriers, newspapers and postal services were the primary conductors of information-sharing across long distances, across mountains, oceans and entire nations. Now, the act of sending a four letter word to someone half the world away can be done in an instant. In the context of healthcare, this ability to remotely communicate with people became the basis for telehealth.
Telehealth is the provision of healthcare related services through virtual or telecommunicative means, delivering diagnoses, advice, care, etc. without having to be physically present. This allows patients who cannot physically visit hospitals (due to debilitating diseases or because they live in rural or geographically isolated areas where professional healthcare is too far away) to always have a clear channel of communication with their health provider. For example, this literature review discusses the positive effects of using telemedicine to provide healthcare for Native Americans and Alaskan Inuits, in how remote communication with healthcare providers can overcome the obstacles faced by patients living in isolated reservations. By providing a way for these indigenous groups to access medicine despite their physical distance from hospitals, telehealth can give these patients the quality care that they deserve.
A Loss of Bedside Manner?
With the advent of “long-distance diagnosis” in today’s medical landscape, will patient-doctor communication be jeopardized, considering that “bedside manner” cannot be properly exercised now that physicians don’t have to be physically present? Yes and no, actually. That while telehealth removes the intimacy provided by face-to-face communication, there remains the essence of bedside communication. Considering how people use services like Skype to keep in touch with their loved ones, the usage of telehealth for remote physician care is not so problematic as one would think. As mentioned before, patient-physician relationships are more jeopardized by billing-focused electronic records, an issue that could lead to burnout, which, in turn a CME cruise might alleviate. Returning to the topic at hand, telehealth will most likely normalize a newer form of bedside manner, one that takes advantage of today’s communication technology.
While telehealth has yet to become as ubiquitous as EHRs in the field of medicine, the potential for remote diagnosis has yet to be explored to the fullest. In lectures and cme cruise conferences, physicians might further discuss the possibilities of telehealth. Considering advancements in A.I. and robotics, telehealth in the future might find itself incorporated into other medical technologies. A remote-controlled, home-based healthcare robot, for example, is a possible way to combine telehealth with medical robotics. Whatever may happen, the importance of communication between patients and their care providers remains important, be it digitally or face to face.