Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technology to provide medical information and services. It involves the transfer of electronic medical data (i.e. high resolution images, sounds, live video and patient records) from one location to another. This transfer of medical data utilizes a variety of telecommunication technology, including telephone lines, the internet, CD-ROMs and voice response systems. Telemedicine is utilized by health providers in a growing number of medical specialties including dermatology, oncology, radiology, surgery, cardiology, psychiatry, gynaecology and home health care.
Telemedicine works in two ways. The first method is regarded as Store and Forward Telemedicine whereby the patient’s medical information is collected locally (stored) and then transferred to a qualified doctor (forward) in any part of the world; a response can usually take about 24 to 48 hours. The other technique is known as Real Time Telemedicine where the patient’s data is available to the specialist as soon as the local doctor receives the information; this method uses video conferencing technology and live data transmission.
TeleMedicine in Pakistan
People living in rural and remote areas struggle to access timely, quality specialty medical care. Residents of these areas have little or no access to specialty health care, primarily because specialist physicians are more likely to be located in areas with a more concentrated population.
Thus, the concept of Telemedicine is highly essential in developing countries like Pakistan that lack basic health care infrastructure. Pakistan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, yet the number of doctors are inadequate when compared to the number of patients. The doctor to population ratio is 1: 1,436 in the country compared to the 1: 500 in wealthy countries. In the case of a specialist, the figures in Pakistan are even worse, 1:12,800. Keeping in mind the health scenario in Pakistan, one can clearly see the importance of Telemedicine in providing specialized health services to the people of remote areas who have long been neglected, especially, the women and children who often sacrifice their health care.
To provide specialty care for the people living in remote areas of the country, there are 2 possible solutions:
- The first is to build new hospitals and to then equip them with the latest medical equipment. This idea requires time, finances and effort. Moreover, it has been tried several times in past with little or no success.
- The second solution is to adopt the Telemedicine concept, which means connecting already established health centers and advanced medical establishments to localities where such institutions do not exist. This is done by using existing health care facilities and therefore is more feasible to setup.
It is important to understand that this technology is not a replacement for traditional hospital visits and face to face medical examinations. However, it is a means by which to augment care when traditional means are unavailable.