In the past couple decades, we’ve seen virtually every area of our lives changed by the astounding march of progress in the fields of computers and communications. Twenty years ago, you probably weren’t on the Internet unless you were particularly tech-minded. Now, you probably access it daily from your smartphone.
This spread of computers and communications has also begun making changes to the way that health providers work with their patients. Despite surprisingly little public fanfare, the field of mobile telehealth has been growing steadily, and is already an industry that brings in billions of dollars a year. Whether you’re a medical provider yourself or you’re in the communications field, this is an exciting area that forward-looking people should be keeping an eye on.
What is Mobile Telehealth?
Telehealth is a catch-all phrase that covers pretty much any form of remote health assistance. One of the most common uses today is utilising videoconferencing to allow doctor-patient consultations across long distances. Depending on the quality of video needed, this can often be done using nothing more sophisticated than the standard cameras found on laptops and smartphones.
If quality imaging is needed, advanced fiber-optic or satellite systems can be used to deliver high-resolution video around the world with only momentary lag/latency. In this way, doctors can easily consult with patients in remote areas, such as on islands or offshore drilling rigs, while saving thousands in transportation costs.
Remote patient monitoring is another booming area of mobile telehealth. Biofeedback indicators can be linked into a wireless communications network to provide a nearly-live data feed to specialists, allowing them to monitor a patient’s pacemaker or vital signs from a distance. Patients can be kept “under observation” while still being free to leave the hospital, and free up those beds.
The Rise of Telesurgery
Mobile telehealth can be taken even further – into the operating room. This isn’t even purely speculation; the first successful instance of robot-assisted remote surgery was conducted in 2001, called the Lindbergh Operation. A man in France had his gallbladder successfully removed through a cholecystectomy that was performed by a team of doctors in New York. While those surgeons used a setup made specifically for the operation, including a custom dedicated fiber-optic line, the communications technology needed to conduct these sorts of remote operation is becoming increasingly commonplace.
At this point, we have nearly all the pieces in place to be able to perform nearly any surgical operation remotely. The only thing lacking is more advanced haptic feedback (force feedback) to give the surgeon precise the physical resistance needed to conduct delicate operations. We’re not far from it now, though. Research in the field continues to march forwards, and universities are beginning to implement it in their studies. Ohio University, for example, recently implemented a Virtual Haptic Back to allow their osteopathic students to train in palpatory diagnosis without involving live patients.
In the Future
Mobile telehealth is virtually certain to be a driving force in future medical developments, and governments are beginning to embrace it. Great Britian’s national medical system is currently implementing their “3 Million Lives” programme, using telehealth services to provide care for patients in need. The government of California has recently been looking into telehealth solutions for their prison system, to reduce costs and increase prisoner security.
In short, medicine ten years from now is likely going to be much different than how it looks today. New technologies will be implemented in the field as quickly as they can be researched and approved. If you aren’t currently following mobile telehealth advances, now may be the time to start getting involved.