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The Arizona Telemedicine Program Blog

Opioid addiction – both prescription and non-prescription – has reached crisis levels in the United States. The U.S. population represents just 5 percent of the global population, yet we consume 80 percent of the world’s opioids. This has led to tens of thousands of overdose deaths each year, and costs the economy $78.5 billion each year. The problem has worsened in recent years, and has been declared a national emergency.

In addition, doses of over-the-counter pain relievers are sold in the tens of billions each year. Tackling this problem is no easy feat. With millions of people misusing painkillers or turning to illegal forms of opioids like heroin to fulfill the needs of their addiction, creative, easily-accessible treatment options are needed to help people get back on their feet and regain control of their lives. Getting help in the current healthcare system can be difficult, as there are several hurdles patients and doctors need to clear in order to get effective treatment. As a result, many attempts at treating people with opioid addictions fail.

One possible solution, according to a number of medical experts, is leveraging the power of telemedicine. But how can remote care help addicts recover? And is it an effective solution to the opioid crisis?

The Fourth of July is Independence Day for the United States of America.  Independence is about individual freedoms and liberties and we celebrate these annually on the 4th of July.  In healthcare, telemedicine, telehealth, and mobile health (mHealth) technologies can help us maintain or improve our health more independently by enabling us to track our health, and access and connect with expert care from where we are. For example:

If you’re sick and have no way to get to a doctor in person, telemedicine gives you the freedom to see a doctor anywhere and anytime from a smartphone, tablet or computer with Internet access.

If you have a chronic health condition that can be monitored remotely, remote patient monitoring, a form of telehealth, gives you the freedom to spend more quality time at home and less time on the road and in your doctor’s waiting room.

Telehealth

ICT (Information and communication technology) has transformed the way we see the world by revolutionizing the medical industry and changing the modes of both medical practice and medical service delivery. According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, “Telehealth is a collection of means or methods for enhancing health care, public health, and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies. Telehealth encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services.”1    Telehealth is widely used to support patients with chronic health conditions. Telehealth has real benefits for both patients and clinicians; it can help patients to better manage and understand long-term health conditions and it can help clinicians to track their patients’ health statuses and to intervene in a timely manner when potentially negative trends or abnormal measurements are observed.

Left, MGH “White Building” housing the original telemedicine hub. Middle, Crichton’s book describing his Harvard Medical School student telemedicine experience. Right, Dr. Weinstein in Boston, recently celebrating the 50th Anniversary of his first telepathology case (then called “Television Microscopy”) seen with David N. Louis, MD, Benjamin Castleman Professor of Pathology, HMS and current MGH Pathologist-in-Chief (left), in the MGH Pathology Department Library, on April 27, 2018.

Although the education of medical and nursing students regarding telemedicine has lagged behind the implementation of telemedicine services, such as telestroke and telepsychiatry, that’s about to change.

A recent survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges documented a sharp increase in the number of medical schools offering telemedicine experiences to their students. Furthermore, medical schools are incorporating telemedicine training facilities in their state-of-the-art education buildings.  The University of Arizona’s College of Medicine -- Tucson's new Health Sciences Innovation Building, scheduled to open in August, will include an “e-Classroom of the Future," designed by Ronald S. Weinstein, M.D., a pioneer in telemedicine and telepathology, a subspecialty of telemedicine.  Dr. Weinstein is the founding director of the statewide Arizona Telemedicine Program, established by the Arizona Legislature in 1996, and headquartered at the University of Arizona College of Medicine --Tucson.

Thanks to the rise of telemedicine, medical professionals are more able than ever to meet with patients, even when those patients are unable to leave home. This revolutionary practice has been especially effective when specialists are needed, including when patients present with less common conditions.

There has been success with telemedicine in the United Kingdom as a way to manage lung cancer treatment. With complicated diseases like cancer, patients need a myriad of doctors to fight alongside them. Cases need to be reviewed by a lung cancer multidisciplinary team (MDT) and a thoracic surgeon, but a problem arises when there is a shortage of thoracic surgeons, as is the case in the UK. The solution is telemedicine.

While the computer revolution of decades past seemed to favor only younger generations, the technology advances of this decade have developed on a completely different trajectory. Our gadgets and computers aren’t just more helpful; they’re becoming much easier to use, introducing users of all ages. A recent study shows that almost 70 percent of seniors use the internet and 80 percent own a cell phone—double the number of just a few years ago. The increasing rate of adoption means older generations are recognizing the value and convenience of these devices.

For seniors who are living out their golden years in their own homes and caring for themselves, today’s technology is more than just convenient—it can be a huge boost to both their quality of life and their safety. Here are a few of the best modern tools to consider.

The way we view healthcare is changing—patients are starting to expect more convenient options and have access to more information about their health. New technology has helped telehealth to become a reality for many patients without easy access to healthcare facilities. It has helped healthcare facilities fill gaps in specialty care via telemedicine, and has helped all patients play a larger role in their own care. However, there are still obstacles ahead of widespread telemedicine adoption that will need to be addressed in coming years. Both telemedicine and analytics are major areas of interest for healthcare IT investors, reaching $197 million (analytics) and $171 million (telehealth) in 2016. These two areas go hand in hand, as big data analytics are helping to advance telemedicine and empower both physicians and patients. Here are five ways big data is playing a role in telehealth.


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