Technology has made it possible for the patient, irrespective of his geographical location, to interact with medicine professionals and receive much needed health care on time. The trend often referred to as Telemedicine is becoming a rage among patients worldwide. Formally defined, Telemedicine is the ability to provide interactive healthcare support via modern technology and telecommunications. Besides eliminating distance barriers between the patient and the physician, it enables the patient to receive follow-up treatment without spending much money.
Beyond the border virtual care
Of late, a lot of interest has been garnering around the concept of telemedicine which is purported to have the potential to boost medical tourism across the world substantially. While medical tourism refers to traveling to a foreign destination for treatment, telemedicine refers to healthcare service that is delivered via technology. Also called as Tele Health, it refers to the practice of offering healthcare services across countries and even continents via a telephone.
Initiated about four decades back with demonstrations of hospitals extending care to patients in remote areas, the concept has firmly established itself among those in pursuit of medical care in foreign locations. It has become an integral part of healthcare services worldwide and the reasons for that are not hard to comprehend. Many healthcare providers have integrated Telemedicine into the ongoing operations and specialty departments. Moreover, it is increasingly finding application with many home health agencies, private physician offices as well as consumer’s homes and workplaces.
Telemedicine is especially beneficial for potential medical tourists as it allows them to start receiving care instructions and directions from the physician who will eventually treat them. This helps in reducing any additional expenditure that would otherwise have been borne by the patient.
Moreover, it reduces stress in patients, who would otherwise have traveled to another country much before their treatment began. While the initial use of telemedicine was to provide healthcare services to patients living in remote regions of the world, where healthcare facilities were negligible, it is of utmost benefit to medical tourists, as they no longer have to wait for their arrival in the destination country for their treatment to begin. With telemedicine, potential medical tourists can get in touch with the physician in a distant country and start the pre-treatment procedures right at their home.
With telemedicine, excellent healthcare services are just a click away for potential medical tourists. You can easily access invaluable advice and information from the physician who will treat your disease, while still being at home. You can take all necessary precautions and gain valuable information about your disease and the treatment procedure much before actually arriving in another country as a medical tourist.
Moreover, you can easily share any new symptoms and get to know your own illness in a much better way, while remaining in constant touch with a physician. Since you would only be reaching your destination country after you have the date when your treatment will begin, it becomes important to remain in touch with the physician in the country where you are traveling to for treatment. With telemedicine, the physician will be in a better position to prepare you for the treatment.
Telemedicine is not a technology or a process in itself, but it encompasses all methods that bridge the geographical limitations and allows physicians to provide healthcare services from a distance.
Why telemedicine is vital today in medical tourism?
Telemedicine has the potential to improve the level of care and service offered to a foreign patient. With medical tourism rising globally, it has become necessary for healthcare providers to offer innovative ways to lure customers to their facilities. Merely listing their services, recognitions and awards on their websites will not do. These providers will need to come up with ways in which the patient-doctor relationship is made stronger. Telemedicine can help achieve that. Apart from that, it can provide a whole list of other benefits for both the healthcare providers and the medical tourists who visit them.
At the moment, the telehealth industry is operating using store-and-forward or deferred or asynchronous and real-time or synchronous operational modes.
The first kind requires the patient to take digital photographs or get a set of tests done locally which can be transferred to the relevant practitioners at a later time. The practitioner goes through these records, makes a diagnosis and recommends course of actions and electronically transfers to the patient.
Real-time telehealth sessions or real-time or synchronous operational mode use teleconferencing and requires a patient to either travel to a facility where specialized telehealth-enabled instruments are present or hire a professional operator to make a home visit with these instruments. The instruments are used by the nurse and its results are delivered to the doctor live who performs a live physical examination through a telehealth application.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Here are some of the more salient benefits of telemedicine one can enjoy by opting for it.
Reduces Unnecessary Traveling
Two of the main reasons patients travel abroad for medical treatment is due to high healthcare costs or the non-availability of the same treatment back home. However, there are instances when a patient does not even need to travel abroad to seek treatment. Telemedicine can reduce these visits the costs related to the same by allowing the patient to seek expert guidance from a medical expert in another country via just a telephone.
Provides comprehensive consultation options
Telemedicine allows the patient to have a firsthand encounter with an expert with regard to the actual procedure to any other pre-procedural evaluations involved beforehand. Telemedicine will allow a patient to easily interact with foreign care providers across different countries before coming to a conclusion on where to travel for treatment. Telemedicine will also offer a medical tourist the chance to experience a comprehensive remote consultation, i.e. a one on one consultation with the medical expert who will treat him/her upon arrival.
The physician on the other hand, can participate actively in clarifying any health issues or queries the patient may have before arriving at the destination for treatment. This, in turn, will make it easier for the patient to make a sound decision when it comes to choosing the best medical tourism destination for treatment. It will also allow him/her to be more relaxed before, during and after the treatment.
Provides Procedural Encounters
Telemedicine offers an opportunity for the primary physician attending the medical tourist to actively participate in all of the procedural encounters. These will include surgeries and post-operative care procedures as well. This allows the physician to be an integral part of the entire healthcare process, a factor which will be favorable for the medical tourist who sees the primary physician as the first and most reliable contact upon reaching the destination. The same goes for follow up care where the medical tourist can get in touch with the foreign healthcare provider in order to devise a proper healthcare plan for a healthy future.
Provides Unique Customer Experience
It has become absolutely necessary to retain customers, considering the wide array of choices available in medical facilities and destinations around the world. Healthcare providers need to offer a unique customer experience for patients rather than sticking to the same old handbook guidelines. Telemedicine can offer that level of uniqueness which will be successful in luring more patients to a specific healthcare facility or medical tourism destination. It provides a win-win situation for the patient who is delighted with the personalized attention, and the healthcare provider who gets to retain the customer and ends up getting more referrals in the process.
How a medical tourist can avail Telemedicine in the best manner
A medical tourist should learn more about the healthcare structure of your destination country and the kind of facilities that they have. Carefully analyze patient testimonials of the facility and learn about the education of the physicians.
Start communication as early as possible
After you have chosen a destination and a hospital/clinic within the region, you should immediately start communication. Usually, every reputed healthcare facility that caters to medical tourists has an international patient department to facilitate communication. Find the contact details of the department and immediately get in touch with them. Approach this department, and ask for details. As the communication progresses, you might have to send them your diagnostic reports, and receive brochures, details, and documents from them.
Different countries have different laws pertaining to medical tourists and it becomes essential for you to have complete knowledge about these laws. Carefully read the consent form, which is a legal document that provides vital information about the hospital and the procedure. Further, ask the department about the physician who will perform the procedure. Get to know as much about the physician as possible and reassure yourself that the physician is duly licensed to perform the procedure.
Communication is a clear path to treatment status
If possible, speak with the physician and understand the possible complications associated with the procedure, and how well the facility is prepared for an unexpected hospital stay. While many facilities offer onsite hospitality and would not refer you to another facility for an extended stay, it is best to know the answers beforehand. If you are currently on medication, be sure to share these details with the treating physician, you might also want to ensure the availability of such medicines in the destination country. If not, get the names of the medication they will provide you, and verify these with the physician in your local country.
Have a list of all the medications that you will have to take prior to and after the treatment. Make sure that they are safe and are of the same, if not better, standard as the medications available in your country. Get in touch with your healthcare insurance provider to ensure that they will cover and reimburse the healthcare expenses that you will have to bear in the destination country.
Take advantage of telemedicine
Formally defined, telemedicine is the exchange of medical information from one place to other using electronic communication techniques. This helps remove the distance barriers between the patient and the physician while improving access to medical services.
Since you would only be reaching your destination country after you have the date when your treatment will begin, it is important to remain in touch with the physician in your choice of medical tourism destination. With telemedicine, the physician will be in a better position to prepare you for the treatment.
Telemedicine is not a technology or a process in itself, but it encompasses all methods that bridge the geographical limitations and allows physicians to provide healthcare services from a distance. Telemedicine is especially beneficial for potential medical tourists as it allows them to start receiving care instructions and directions from the physician who will eventually treat them.
This helps in reducing any additional expenditure that would otherwise have been borne by the patient. Communicating with the physician helps reduce stress in patients, who would otherwise travel to another country much before their treatment began.
The initial use of telemedicine was to provide healthcare services to patients living in remote regions of the world where healthcare facilities were negligible. It has found itself to be of utmost use to medical tourists, as they no longer have to wait for their arrival in the destination country for their treatment to begin.
In the future, telemedicine can help drive the cost of medical tourism down for patients as they would only need to travel when they need to get procedures done. For every other aspect of pre- and post- operative care, they can use telemedicine. This could boost medical travel for relatively smaller procedures like dentistry where a patient ends up spending more on travelling for post operative care to a MT destination than on the procedure itself.