Can the Medical Field Benefit from Video Conferencing?

It can be amusing to watch old science fiction movies and TV shows speculate about the future and see just how far off their writers really were. According to Lost in Space, we were due to be able to colonize other planets by 1997. Back to the Future II seems to think we would all spend our free time playing on flying skateboards in the far off, futuristic year of 2015. While Star Trek is still set in the rather distant future, there are unlikely to be mile long spaceships capable of traveling faster than the speed of light in the next century or so. Star Trek has managed to be on the money about a few things, notably communications, and their portable communicator is seen as a precursor to the cellphones that are now in the possession of the majority of citizens. While revolutionary at the time, the Star Trek method of video communication has now also become commonplace, and many of us video chat each and every day, although not usually from the bridge of a large spaceship.

It seems that Star Trek was also on the money when it came to their advanced medical technology, and a consumer handheld self-diagnosing scanning device in a similar vein to Star Trek’s medical tricorder is just a few years away, according to a report by USA Today. Developments in communication technology have also given medical professionals a previously unseen benefit, and video conferencing is gradually being implemented for a variety of healthcare purposes, whether it’s remote diagnosis or allowing a professional to supervise and offer advice on a delicate procedure from afar. Traditional video conferencing aimed at a consumer market is usually insufficient for healthcare professionals purposes, which is why specialized providers such as Blue Jeans are stepping up to the plate.

Video Conferencing and Remote Diagnosis

Attempts at remote diagnosis using existing technology is nothing new, and Great Britain’s National Health Service operated NHS direct until 2011, where patients could call a healthcare professional and describe their symptoms, allowing an educated guess as to whether or not the situation was serious enough to warrant a visit to a doctor or emergency room. This method of diagnosis was imperfect and as such, quickly became outdated with the advent of video conferencing technology. The NHS is drafting plans to have a team of medical professionals trained specifically to diagnose via video conferencing, according to The Times. These doctors and even psychiatrists will be able to discuss the symptoms in details directly with the patient and even examine the affected area if possible, courtesy of a high resolution video facility, such as those offered by Blue Jeans. The technology is already being used to some extent to treat patients living in remote areas, but it will soon include patients living in metropolitan areas, and will likely slash waiting times considerably. No doubt other countries will be watching to gauge the success of the scheme once it’s implemented.

Training New Staff via Video Conferencing

Another potential application for video conferencing in the medical community is to allow specialists based in other cities to supervise a delicate medical procedure without needing to travel, freeing them up to oversee many more procedures than they would ordinarily be able to. A team of consultants would still need to carry out the actual procedure, but having the real time interactive advice of a physician who excels in his or her field offers a greater level of care to the patient than used to be possible. The implications of remote medicine or telemedicine are quickly becoming a reality, and as such, the American Medical Association is fast tracking a range of recommendations for widespread implementation of accepted practices, according to reports from their annual general meeting. A chief concern of the association appears to be the technology’s ability to maintain a credible patient to physician relationship, one that could be equated to a face to face consultation, but as the technology becomes more widespread and accepted by the general population, this will be a logical progression.

Final Thoughts

It can be speculated that the future of medical care will involve a range of methods, including remote diagnosis via video conference, and even the ability to issue a prescription for the patient to print at home and take to a pharmacist. Common ailments will possibly be identified by a Star Trek style medical tricorder which can then directly send results to the patient’s doctor for further analysis. While technology might one day allow us to fly around the galaxy at the speed of light while colonizing other planets, it’s nice to consider that one day, very soon, it will be able to quickly and efficiently deal with matters closer to home … such as our health.

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