Telemedicine: Remote examinations and operations are here!

Published 11 Mar 2019 • By Louise Bollecker

Telemedicine: Remote examinations and operations are here!

Telemedicine has gone way beyond conference calls: new technologies allow doctors to monitor blood pressure and other vital signs -- take x-rays even -- and assist with operations from miles away.

Wireless technology is moving "healthcare outside of clinics and hospitals", said Pamela Spence, health sciences market leader at Ernst & Young, at the Mobile World Congress trade fair in Barcelona. And that is making it easier to provide in remote areas, she added.

Mobile technology for health

Participants at the mobile industry's biggest annual global event discussed how telemedicine is doing more than just connecting doctors and patients over a video or voice call. A telemedicine cabin developed by French firm Health for Humanity (H4D) allows a doctor hundreds of miles away from a patient measure their pulse rate, temperature and blood oxygen level. The cabin -dubbed the Consult Station- is also equipped with tools that allow a doctor to carry out X-rays and hearing tests.

Train physicians in these practices

Dozens of Consult Stations have so far been installed in France, Italy and Portugal and H4D is carrying out pilot projects in Canada, the United States, the Philippines and Dubai. But training doctors on how to carry out a clinical exam remotely is "crucial" to the success of the service, said HD4 founder and president Franck Baudino. They have to learn how guide the patient through the process. Doctors were initially wary of the idea of telemedicine cabins when the company was founded in 2008 but have since warmed to them, he added. "Ten years ago people looked at me as if I were an alien," said Baudino, a French doctor who worked in remote African communities. "Today people still think we are avant-garde but the big difference is that 10 years ago we were talking about the future, today it is systems that are already being used."

A technology that has proven its worth

Market research firm Forrester predicts there will be more virtual visits to healthcare providers in the United States than in-person visits by the end of 2020. "Up until this point there has been relatively slow growth in the telemedicine market," said Jeff Becker, a health care IT expert at Forrester. "We do think it has proven itself in these early years and that we are going to see broad adoption."

The arrival of blazing fast 5G wireless networks, which telecoms operators are starting to roll out, opens up new possibilities for telemedicine -- such as surgeries performed by remotely controlled robots. Spanish doctor Antonio de Lacy carried out the world's first 5G-power telemonitored operation on Wednesday from the Barcelona trade fair grounds. He provided real-time guidance via a 5G video link to a surgical team operating on a patient with an intestinal tumour about five kilometres (three miles) away at the Hospital Clinic.

"This is a first step to achieve our dream, which is to make remote operations in the near future," said de Lacy. Doctors have performed surgeries in the past using wireless networks. What 5G does is increase image quality and definition, crucial for medical teams to take decisions with as much information as possible and reduce the risk of mistakes. This next-level cellular networks also greatly reduces latency -the time it takes to get a response to information sent- of wireless networks. That means images and data are relayed almost instantly.

Necessary solutions for medical deserts around the world

Telemedicine could be especially important in developing nations. Gifted Mom, a text-messaging service and app, gives women in out-of-the way rural communities across Cameroon free health advice from doctors. By 2020, it expects to reduce the number of women who die during childbirth in the African country by at least 70 percent. Even if many patients are still more comfortable being treated face-to-face, the use of telemedicine will "definitely" continue, said Michael Barnett, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston who has studied the new techniques. "The question is where it will plateau," he added. "Use is still pretty uncommon, so it still has plenty of room to grow."

What do you think of these solutions? Would you agree to be operated on remotely? Have you ever tried teleconsultation?


avatar Louise Bollecker

Author: Louise Bollecker, Community Manager France

Community Manager of Carenity in France, Louise is also editor-in-chief of the Health Magazine to provide articles, videos and testimonials that focus on patients' experiences and making their voices heard. With a... >> Learn more


lesmal • Ambassador
on 26/03/2019

Technology has taken over too fast as far as I'm concerned. 

Many older people don't know how to work with mobile phones so how can they understand this process also? They don't know what's going on and how technology works and I'm sure some would find this confusing. One wonders whether they have any choice in the end or is this just accepted and continued with! 

At this stage, as a patient with 45 years of epilepsy, I still prefer seeing a Doctor/Neurologist 'face to face' in a Doctor's Practice or Clinic, having proper confrontation where one can discuss a health issue properly, ask questions and get more interaction with one another. 

I think also much of it depends on the particular health issue/problem, whether its an immediate emergency or whether it can wait. 

Measuring pulse rate, temperature, blood oxygen level and many other health issues through telemedicine seems so impersonal over video/voice call etc!

on 27/03/2019

As long as we are given proof of doctors' qualifications then I see no problem with the new technology

on 28/03/2019

I would not like Telemedicine. I am aged 75 and I like to talk to a doctor, person to person as not all doctors know how to cure a persons ailment. We the patients have to use common sense and trust in their professional expertise, which is based on their reputation and our knowledge about them. I do not like mobile phones as I read they can damage our brain with radiation and electric magnetic waves.  I like a  simple life style, no frills, just simple food and simple living.  I would wait a few years and see how this Telemedicine works out. We seldom hear of doctors mistakes as they cover up for each other and it is very hard to prove negligence against them when they err.

on 28/03/2019

I was in hospital a few weeks ago. They asked me and my daughter if we would take part in a test . We had to look into an I pad not move for a few minutes. This read our blood our fat in take red and white cells and bone .and blood

this would go to our doctor so they would have a reading of problem that may come up. I think the idea is to save all the time that is wasted at your doctors. Not sure I understood it all but hope it may help later.

on 15/04/2019

Like Lesmal says, technology has advanced far too fast these days. I appreciate that the world has to move forward. There are driverless cars and Pilotless planes being flown. But how safe are they? For younger generation, like the children  and young adults of today who have already mastered today's technology, may feel more comfortable with the idea of telemedicine but for older generation who do not have smart phones who have never owned a computer/Laptop/I pad etc will most certainly prefer to have face to face consultation, have their worries listened to and questions answered. Although i am computer literate and have a smart phone, I still would not feel comfortable with telemedice.

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