Understanding Telemedicine

By Peter P. Giacalone

 

In 2005, the U.S. witnessed hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, among many other natural disasters.  In Mother Nature’s furor, more than two million lives were destroyed, forcing many to recognize the limitations of emergency and medical care services – especially in rural areas.

Throughout American history, no amount of advanced warning has been able to prevent natural disasters from destroying rural areas.  The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 left 700,000 people homeless throughout rural areas in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.  And, even after the development of telecommunications and transportation networks over seven decades later, Hurricane Katrina battered many of those same communities, leaving 1.5 million people without homes or prompt medical care.

Following Hurricane Katrina, more than 1,200 senior citizens living in rural areas died because of a lack of medical attention.  They included many elderly, disabled and medically-challenged residents who fled or wanted to flee, but faced the challenges of finding medical care as their local response teams struggled to respond to such a daunting crisis.

Such individuals, often poor and jobless, rarely hit the radar of the public consciousness. Only through devastation does the American public take notice and demand their leaders do something to help these individuals.

Today, many disabled and sick individuals living in rural areas struggle, even without the wake of a natural disaster.  Without doctors or nurses nearby, it is difficult for rural residents to access emergency responders or even caregivers who can monitor them for easily preventable diseases, major health conditions or day-to-day well-being. 

The solution to serve these communities is telemedicine — technologies that provide long distance home health care that is priceless to many pregnant women, terminally ill people and others with disabilities who require remote home monitoring to safeguard their health.

In recent years, there have been a number of advances that have pulled technology into the home health care arena, making the possibilities for improvement endless.  The most remarkable of which is telemedicine — an affordable, in-home health monitoring system already popular in Scandinavian countries. 

Imagine life though telemedicine: You wake up, roll out of bed and stand on a floor mat that automatically takes your weight. You then walk to the bathroom to wash your face. With the touch of a faucet, your temperature is instantly taken.  

Meanwhile, doctors and nurses on the other side of the country are receiving your vital statistics to monitor your health. While you may live in a rural community, some 50 miles from the nearest hospital, doctors can use telemedicine for emergency alerts, medication reminders, long-term disease management, and monitoring such conditions as diabetes, cardio-pulmonary condition, asthma and pregnancy.

Providing such simple, reliable and effective in-home systems for a lifetime of health tracking and monitoring is priceless.  It enables professional medical specialists, such as primary care physicians, to direct treatment and referrals in a precise manner — even if they are located on the other side of the world.

In 2006, these technological innovations will aid a growing number of individuals who cannot receive medical help regularly or find transportation during emergencies.  Many individuals stranded in their homes during natural disasters or living in rural areas will be able to use the Internet and high-tech monitoring systems for immediate medical care and monitoring.

Telemedicine supports more than one-way communication of medical information.  Through two-way voice communication, individuals in need can signal and speak with experienced licensed nurses, emergency medical technicians and police, fire and emergency dispatchers through an intercom, bracelet or pendant. Emergency and medical questions are answered fast; the right course of action is diagnosed within seconds. 

Such vital services mean everything to those in need, their families and professionals who provide home healthcare.  Knowing loved ones have the most up-to-date technology, such as convenient health monitoring, medical record archiving, Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking capabilities, inactivity detectors and medication alerts, along with 24-hour access to psychologists, counselors, licensed nurses, EMTs and police, fire and emergency officials brings an invaluable sense of peace of mind to subscribers. 

While the personal touch is and will always remain the cornerstone of proper home health care, the security and home health care industries have created “compassionate technology,” which can better link people together in times of crisis.

In the coming months, watch for the union of telemedicine and two-way voice communication to become the “21st Century House Call,” revolutionizing home health care, alleviating the devastating effects following natural disasters and bringing a touch of soul to our technological world.

 

Peter P. Giacalone is executive vice president of SafetyCare™. For more information about SafetyCare™, please log on to www.safetycare.us.

 

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