Telemedicine as therapy support
What is telemedicine?Telemedicine is a modern example of how scientific progress helps overcome the problem of distance. According to the definition, telemedicine is a form of remote medical care. With the use of innovative network connections, it enables online contact with a patient, remote radiological assessment or even to perform a surgery by a surgeon based hundreds of miles away from the operating room. The United States are the cradle of telemedicine. That’s where it was originally used by the military and astronauts.
Role of telemedicine in contemporary health careThe solutions of telemedicine help optimize health care systems all over the world, by, among others, boosting their efficiency, reducing cost, diminishing the medical staff’s task load and improving patients’ quality of life. Let’s look at a couple of examples that demonstrate the possibilities that contemporary medicine opens up:
- monitoring the health of chronically ill patients, including those suffering from diabetes or cardiac diseases
- consultations with specialists for those living in remote or developing areas where the permanent and comprehensive health care cannot be accessed easily
- the modernization of surgery thanks to the possibility to assist a cross-disciplinary team in the cases of complicated operations.
Telemedical advancements are already used in the domain of psychiatry on a wide scale. American Medical Association published a very interesting report about the use of the above technologies by medical doctors with various specializations. It says that psychiatrists hold the second place in the ranks with other specialists using telemedical solutions in everyday practice. Can they improve the treatment effectiveness of mental illnesses including depression? To find the answer, we should first remind ourselves which therapy options are currently available to patients afflicted by depression.
Depression treatment — what kind of help can an affected individual get?Over the course of the past years, the number of available therapy options for those afflicted by depression grew considerably. Pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal therapy, are the two most frequently used methods, usually combined together. They are completed by psychoeducation, social support, relaxation techniques, physical activity, as well as the methods of neuromodulation (transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy). In which of the above areas are the telemedical techniques used already? Can modern, remote technologies improve the effectivity of depression treatment when introduced to therapy procedures?
The role of telemedicine in modern psychiatryThe summary of the American Medical Association report showed that videocalls are the most widely used method in psychiatry as they make the interaction between a doctor or a psychotherpist and a patient possible, even long-distance.
For instance, The University of John Hopkins introduced a special programme of online psychiatric consultations and psychotherapeutic sessions for elderly patients who suffer from mental illnesses, including depression. It’s a big opportunity for a more effective therapy in this age group as regular appointments in a therapeutical center are too big an effort for many elderly patients.
How telemedicine supports therapyIt’s not an isolated case though. A lot of therapeutical institutes offer patients to participate in a psychotherapy remotely, with the use of such tools as Skype. It enables those who live far away or work in a foreign country who do not have access to domestic health care to continue systematic treatment.
Other option to start a therapy online is a system of unassisted, internet cognitive-behavioral therapy. This innovative technique, tested for example in Denmark, has high chances to be included in psychiatric practice on a large scale. Interestingly, it is nearly as effective as the classical methods of psychotherapy , and on top of that it is a solution to a problem of a low access to swift psychological aid, financial obstacles or patient’s reluctance to begin face to face therapy sessions. The systems of unassisted, online cognitive-behavioral therapy are particularly successful in rural and remote areas all over the world, where there is deficiency of qualified medical specialists.
Mobile applications which are omnipresent already, also bring innovation to depression treatment. Their creators base their vision upon the fact that a smartphone is one of the fundamental everyday tools that people use these days. The so-called “self-apps” offer a wide gamut of therapeutical features available to everyone, irrespective of their location or time of day. From mindfulness and meditation training, or stress management workshop to professional CBT programmes that patients manage on their own. Some applications contain additional features, such as the possibility to contact your doctor or a base of reliable scientific resources about depression as an element of psychotherapy. You can learn more on the subject in one of our articles “What self-help applications can bring to therapy?”.
Undoubtedly, in the digitalization era, telemedicine will continue to be an important pillar in psychiatry. It helps a lot of depression patients all over the globe already, allowing to continue treatment in spite of unfavourable conditions. It is worth to follow its further development.