Asynchronous telemedicine is one of those terms we will need to get used to in the coming years. Although it may sound alien, chances are you have been using some form of it for a while.
With the progress of digital health, especially due to the pandemic’s impact, remote care has become a popular approach in the healthcare setting. It can come in two forms: synchronous telemedicine and asynchronous telemedicine.
Synchronous refers to having discussions in real-time: the patient and the healthcare provider are connected with an audio or audio-visual link to have a live consultation.
Asynchronous telemedicine, obviously, is the opposite. You share data, questions or medical records but there is no live communication.
It can come in various forms, like forwarding a recorded video or audio message to a health practitioner for analysis and examination or sending a recorded health history to a specialist. Text messages and e-mails all belong to this category.
More examples include patients sharing images of wounds/symptoms with their doctors, and physicians sharing patient reports with other specialists. Also, symptom survey questionnaires and medical education quizzes belong here.
It is addressing capacity issues
This model has obvious benefits in addressing problems arising from specialist shortages. You can imagine zillion different scenarios.
The often-cited model of skin-checking apps is one of them, although AI participation is not relevant in this regard. You take a picture of a skin lesion, and a dermatologist will check it at some point in the near future and send you a diagnosis.
But asynchronicity isn’t limited to the patient-healthcare professional relation, it can occur between general practitioners and specialists, or between specialists as well. Sending medical images (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans or retinopathy results, etc) to major medical centers for review is one example. A general practitioner sending cardiac readings to a specialist is another.
It’s also called the “store-and-forward” technique, where a patient or physician collects medical history, images, and pathology reports and then sends them to a specialist physician for diagnostic and treatment expertise.
As the communication is not live, you don’t need all parties of the conversation to be there at the same time and/or at the same place.
Why do we have to know about it? Here are the benefits:
- Increased efficiency for practices in managing their schedules and workload
- Increased individual efficiency due to less interruption and efficient stacking of similar tasks
- Allows patients to record/image capture their symptoms as they occur or when they are most prominent/visible
- Offers younger patients a more preferred communication method (like texting or voice messaging)
- Addresses language issues, either by allowing patients to translate the received communication with apps or with the help of others
- Provides a convenient setting for transmitting large amounts of health data from digital health devices for analysis
It has downsides too:
- Delays in response may lead to delays in evaluation and treatment
- Communication may be less efficient, as there is no opportunity for clarifying issues/questions
- It is less personal due to the electronic/remote nature of communication, which might affect the relationship between the patient and the healthcare provider
The question is not whether it will come, but how we make the most of it
Doctor shortages and physician burnout are among the most pressing problems of all healthcare systems globally. Every digital health solution that can address these is welcome. In the long run, these models will also benefit patients who now have barriers to accessing quality healthcare. The key takeaway is we will need to focus on finding the balance between increasing efficiency and not losing empathy in care.
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