Just as technology has changed the way we shop, we keep taxis, we have business meetings and we even find parking, and it also transforms the way we access healthcare, wherever we are in the world.
Today's digital consumers have higher expectations of how to address their health concerns. Patients want to be quickly perceived, ideally by a top physician, at a time convenient for them. They want less time in waiting rooms or schedules to travel for an appointment. They want a stop in endless references and they have to explain the symptoms to every new doctor in the process.
Significant advances in telemedicine are both that meet these expectations and remodel the way we provide the best care for even more people.
Telemedicine is the provision of clinical services in telecommunication and IT equipment. This is a subset of a wider virtual or tele-health platform originally developed for doctors to treat patients living in rural and remote areas. Today, the application of these technologies has gone beyond this original vision – and beyond what we imagined could be feasible.
Report telemedicine to a conversation, and most will think of talking to a doctor via a video link without leaving the comfort of the home. Or book an appointment for a doctor or repeat a prescription at a local online clinic.
However, telemedicine is applied in all sectors and at all levels of health care, from the exchange of stored patient data such as radiographic images between distant hospitals to the provision of surgical expertise through video training to postoperative visits. Telemedicine is used in hospital settings to support the care of the weakest patients in ICU and to monitor patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart failure – the so-called "automated swing" that helps people stay well even when they are not in our halls or offices.
Teletrauma and telestroke programs can quickly connect experts to help the patient cope with critical, life-threatening injuries. And telegenic counseling programs help patients who can not easily reach experts in urban areas to map rescue plans when they learn they are bringing dangerous mutations that increase their cancer risk.
For the medical profession, telemedicine facilitates rapid dissemination of pioneering research, sharing specialized resources where problems such as funding, distance and lack of qualified staff is a matter. In addition, bold steps forward to treat aggressive and life-threatening diseases are limited if this expertise remains limited within the walls of a research program.
In the United States, healthcare practices are progressive in adopting telemedicine to enhance patient-patient commitment and provide patient education. And now, programs like newly established Penn Medicine London combine traditional and virtual methods to provide more effective diagnosis and treatment.
The first of its kind in the UK, the new program will transform current practice through the provision of a remote second opinion service. This means enhanced access for UK patients to Penn Medicine doctors in the United States. at the forefront of clinical research and patient care, without having to travel to the Atlantic to seek advice.
For patients taking care of Penn Medicine, we can use telemedicine to provide follow-up care and maintain continuity with their care team, which is critical for both patient's best experience and outcomes.
We are also excited to facilitate new education and training partnerships with UK medical teams around innovative treatments such as proton radiation and emerging immune therapies for rare and aggressive cancers – including the first personalized Kymriah cell therapy in the world. the scientists developed here at Penn Medicine. Philadelphia is home to us, but improving healthcare is an international pursuit that knows no limits – and one of which we are thrilled to support in the United Kingdom.
The potential development and application of telemedicine around the world is both exciting and shocking, promoting a faster, more rational and effective way for patients to gain greater control over their health and make better choices for their own treatment, regardless of their place of residence.
Ralph W. Muller is Managing Director of the Pennsylvania University Health System in Philadelphia and a former guest at the Royal Fund.