Telemedicine’s popularity has skyrocketed due to technological advances over the last 20 to 30 years, and most recently due to the necessities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it is not a new concept.
The World Health Organization states that the term, meaning ‘healing at a distance’ was coined in the 1970s and forms of telemedicine have been used even further back in history.
Bonfires were used in the Middle Ages to transmit bubonic plague information across Europe, while telegraphy and the telephone have also been used historically to transmit medical information.
“Video consultations first surfaced in the early 1960s and telemedicine in its current form has been around for about 30 years,” explains Dr. Delroy Jefferson, Medical Director at the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.
Until COVID-19, the method tended to only be used for underserved or rural populations which couldn’t otherwise access care, or in situations where a specialist was not easily accessible.
“Due to the pandemic, there has been a rapid increase in the use of telemedicine technology,” says Dr. Jefferson. “Several hospital systems in the USA and Europe have used telemedicine in the triaging of patients who may have symptoms potentially related to the coronavirus.”
While the benefits of telemedicine during a pandemic are obvious, it also has wide-reaching benefits during ‘normal’ times, allowing access to healthcare in underserved, remote or rural communities in both developed and developing countries, and convenient care for patients with limited mobility. It may also be cheaper for some patients and can improve caregiver efficiency.
A range of applications
“Telemedicine technology can be used for a number of different services including medication management, management of chronic health conditions, consultations, and follow-up visits,” says Dr. Jefferson.
Telemedicine can include pre-recorded methods (also known as store-and-forward), such as email, or realtime methods (also known as synchronous), such as videoconferencing.
“These services are conducted via secure video and audio connections using a purpose-designed telemedicine robot…or in some cases on a mobile device or computer,” explains
Specialities covered in telemedicine are numerous and include telepsychiatry, teledermatology, teleradiology, teleneurology and telerheumatology.
Locally, both private clinics and public and private hospitals have adopted telemedicine practises, either due to COVID-19, or before the pandemic occurred.
Health Services Authority
The HSA has a dedicated telemedicine suite, which allows visiting specialists unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions the chance to offer their Cayman patients continuity of care during the pandemic.
A consultation room, examination room and an InTouch Health RP-Lite 4 telemedicine robot called Sally, all allow HSA patients to consult with overseas healthcare professionals. Sally is equipped with high definition cameras, allowing detailed examination of patients, and was donated to the HSA by the Seafarers Association.
Video chats and telephone consultations are other telemedicine methods employed by the HSA.
“Telemedicine has grown significantly over the past few months and it is expected to continue to increase as more clinicians and patients are becoming familiar with the technology, and the delivery of care through this modality is becoming more refined,” says Dr. Jefferson.
“HSA will continue to widen our telemedicine offerings. Over the past six months, the telemedicine robot has been used nearly 200 times across a breadth of services and severity of cases.”
Health City Cayman Islands
Health City Cayman Islands has offered telemedicine as an option since the hospital’s opening in 2014. Primarily used by international patients, both pre- and post-surgery, the service was always available for patients who could not physically attend appointments. However, the service has expanded greatly during the COVID-19 crisis for local patients, ensuring that they can still access immediate care.
“While we have seen that local patients seem to prefer in-person consultations, we are continuing to offer teleconsults for both local patients who prefer that option, and also to our international patients who cannot currently travel to see us due to ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions,” says Health City Chief Business Officer Shomari Scott.
“Telemedicine has always been at the heart of medical tourism in order to connect with patients and referral physicians prior to arrival, as well as to close the loop post-surgery,” says Scott. “COVID-19 jump-started local patients’ comfort with the technology, and we envisage medical technology for the monitoring and/or detection of disease becoming more quickly adapted and accepted in the local community.
“Health City is already well-positioned to respond to this shift due to our ongoing focus on using technology to transform the delivery of healthcare.”
Doctors Hospital also adapted to the dramatically impacted global delivery of healthcare by quickly introducing telemedicine options to patients.
“These technologies were of particular importance at the onset of the pandemic when we needed to stay close to patients across various situations (on-site, from home, and elsewhere) while further preventing the transmission of COVID-19,” says Jennifer Stockfish, director of marketing & business development at Doctors Hospital.
The facility’s telemedicine offerings enabled it to continue providing virtual examinations, consultations, follow-up appointments, and prescriptions to patients island-wide. This also keeps medical tourists connected to Doctors Hospital specialists, and visiting specialists connected to local patients in preparation for future surgeries.
“As an organisation, we’re committed to being proactive in the best interest of our patients, the community and the country,” says Stockfish. “And as we and our various partners in hospital and healthcare service delivery evolve with a range of changing needs and realities – some still unknown – our commitment includes ongoing investments into the most advanced medical equipment, infrastructure, talent and technology, telehealth included.”
To schedule a virtual or in-person appointment, patients can call the hospital at (345) 949-6066, or the DH CARE Centre at (345) 325-9000.