The number of cancer diagnoses is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, making the ever-increasing demand for oncologists an urgent concern. However, thanks to the rise of telemedicine, high-quality healthcare is now much more accessible than ever. The rapidly evolving technology has been breaking down the barriers between patients and healthcare providers and may help fill pressing healthcare needs as they arise. For example, telehealth has become a powerful option for cancer screenings; with the potential to report symptoms as they surface and help patients receive a quick and correct diagnosis while the disease is still in its nascent stages. As the world of healthcare continues to advance, telemedicine is providing hope for those battling life-threatening conditions today.
Putting The Patient First
The word telemedicine means “healing from a distance,” and this telecommunication tool allows professionals to deliver high-quality healthcare to patients regardless of their geographical location. For those battling life-threatening illnesses, distance can be a critical limitation in achieving fast, high-quality care, as access to specialized treatment and physicians may require patients to endure extensive travel despite their health condition. The rising costs of cancer treatment, combined with travel and hospitalization expenses, has allowed telemedicine to become more recognized as a fast, convenient and cost-effective way for patients to monitor their health. This is advantageous especially for two reasons – getting illness and ailments monitored in the comfort of their home and the increased instance of having a disease detected earlier as compared to a traditional visit to the doctor’s office. In the unfortunate event of a serious illness, this technology allows physicians to perform remote consultations with patients through video calls, monitor symptoms, record images, and share medical insights quicker than ever before.
Penn Medicine is a world-renowned medical center and is recognized as one of the first healthcare organizations to adopt the use of telemedicine. It now runs one of the biggest intensive care telemedicine programs in the nation. Implementing telehealth as a precaution for those in need of 24-hour medical attention, Penn Medicine found that this virtual form of care has reduced the mortality rate among patients as well as the duration of their stay in clinics and hospitals. Furthermore, they have explained how this tool has improved outpatient care – connecting patients and physicians with remote specialists, eliminating the cost of medical care, and the stress of necessary travel. As a leader in healthcare, Penn’s continued interest, support, and use of telehealth are demonstrating just how beneficial this tool can be for patients and healthcare providers.
Advantages of Tele-oncology
The number of cancer patients is expected to reach as many as 23.6 million people by 2030, making the demand for oncologists a critical need to address. In fact, a shortage of these specialists is predicted in the near future as more than half of these specialists are over the age of 50 and are heading towards retirement. Approximately 70% of counties across the United States are already without a local oncologist, making tele-oncology the future for those residing in rural areas or those who are unable to travel due to health conditions. This includes any form of remote cancer care, ranging from simple teleconsultations to more advanced applications like telepathology and telesurgery. A study conducted in 2008 found promising results for tele-oncology, comparing in-person doctor’s office visits to virtual appointments for cancer patients. As part of the study, 200 cancer patients were required to attend one in-person visit with their primary oncologist, followed by utilizing telemedicine for half of all their appointments for one year. The results indicated that as many as 95% of patients felt virtual care was just as beneficial as visiting a physician in person.
Telemedicine and Mesothelioma
In addition, during the 2010 American Telemedicine Association meeting, Dr. Gary C. Doolittle, announced several findings from his research, one being the fact that cancer care via video conferencing reduces costs from $812 to $251 per visit, which is much lower than the average cost of an in-person visit today. These findings bolster some of the most promising patient benefits, including prioritizing their medical and financial needs while delivering the best and most convenient care possible. Patients with rare conditions are most vulnerable to receiving a late diagnosis and may have to visit several physicians before a correct diagnosis is made.
This especially rings true for those with malignant mesothelioma, as the symptoms are generally nonspecific and often mimic more common illnesses like asthma or pneumonia. The only known cause of this often fatal condition is exposure to asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral recognized by the World Health Organization as a leading cause of occupational health cancer worldwide. As many as 125 million workers are projected to be affected by exposure to this toxin. Once the disease is diagnosed, there is usually limited information about the ailment and the best route possible for treatment. Telehealth allows physicians to document patient’s symptoms and refer them to a specialist with the click of a button, which is especially beneficial for those fighting the advanced stages of cancer. Although there is no definitive cure for this disease, early detection is recognized as the key to alleviating further advancement of this disease, and telemedicine provides the rapid transfer of knowledge and treatment that these patients require.
With its maximum utilization in the construction and manufacturing industries, occupational exposure to asbestos is still a threat in many countries. This calls for yet another technological solution for employers and high-risk workers around the world – occupational medicine EHR software. This software connects employers, employees, and physicians on a digital platform enabling them to easily track, monitor and provide treatment in a quick, reliable and cost-effective way.
The Future of Telemedicine
Telemedicine is changing the landscape of healthcare in its entirety by catering to the needs of the patients and their personal circumstances. In addition to tele-oncology, this tool can be applied to a number of medical fields, including teledermatology, teleradiology, telepsychology, and telepsychiatry. With countless ways to deliver remote healthcare, telehealth is transforming the healthcare industry, at a fast pace. More than half of all hospitals throughout the country have adopted this technology today. Just last year, the largest telehealth service worldwide, Teladoc, announced its remarkable progress in achieving more than 100% growth within the hospital and healthcare markets.
This significant growth shows the undeniable rise of telehealth throughout health systems and is just the beginning of its anticipated success. This growth of telemedicine has been predicted to be the highest this year and is suggested to reach as many as 7 million patients by the year-end. Further down the line, as more healthcare organizations begin implementing this alternative form of patient treatment, the overall market for telemedicine is projected to rise above 14% by 2020. Although telehealth is a work in progress, this technological advancement continues to expand because it prioritizes the needs of the patient, is cost-effective, and has the ability to connect medical experts all over the world. On a larger scale, it has the potential to help address the future shortage of oncologists and medical experts, connect underserved populations to quality care, and ultimately lead to early detection and better patient outcomes.
Author: Rosie Rosati