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As a student, you’ve probably heard about telemedicine in passing and wondered what exactly it is, where it’s coming from, and what the future of medicine will be like.

First, what is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the practice of medicine remotely, without requiring the provider and patient to be together in the same room, often enabled by technology. Briefly, imaging seeing your doctor over FaceTime. That is a clear example of what telemedicine is.

How did it all start?

The thought is that it goes back to a Dutch physician, Willem Einthoven, who sent electrocardiograms over long distances to be evaluated by a physician that was hundreds of miles away. This led to hundreds of reports of radiology reports being sent across states and consultations occurring by radio.

And it’s easy to understand why. If a patient can be treated without an actual visit, a physician is able to see way more patients in a day and provide significantly more care.

Anyone who wasn’t born literally yesterday knows that modern day telemedicine is very different. In fact, today, we call all of telemedicine together “telehealth.” There are three different broad types of telehealth, and numerous applications of each. The first uses the transfer of data (imaging, etc.), known as the store and forward method. The second is remote patient monitoring, where things like vital signs or blood sugars can be monitored by a physician remotely. The third is real time telemedicine, whereby patients can actually see patients in real time via videoconferencing.

All of this is enabled by one thing: technology. Technology has enabled tremendous applications of modern telemedicine including virtual visits at CVS through its app, dermatologic evaluations online, and evaluation of ophthalmologic conditions, among many more applications.

Where is telemedicine going and what does the future have in store?

While nobody knows the answer to this, we know telemedicine can be a major tool for physicians to provide care to patients that might otherwise not have access, especially in rural areas or underprivileged communities. But it is with a caveat that the evaluation can be completed based only on information that can be communicated electronically (so measuring something in your blood will still require a visit to a real provider). With so much hype surrounding all the ongoing research and innovation, only one thing is certain: the future of medicine is bright and promising.

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