Teleconferencing and… medicine?

There is a very high chance that conference calling has become a part of your everyday professional life. This isn’t some sort of sweeping generalisation or narrow-minded view in which everybody works in a 9 to 5 office job.

In fact, teleconferencing has thrived across almost innumerable fields, proving itself useful to tutors and teachers – it was even the starting point of the phenomenon of Dr. Tyler DeWitt’s YouTube channel and the educational revolution to which it is contributing.

Then there is sport, where conference calls have typically played a big part for multiple reasons, including the utility it has shown itself to have for coaches and trainers, as for tutors and teachers, and the sportspeople themselves.

Even artists and musicians have been able to harness the power of the teleconference, as with Tanlines, the band which previewed its album to its fans via a conference call. You don’t even need to be employed for conference calling to have the power to benefit you immensely: they are great for students, and other people conducting research, for prayer groups, and just for staying in touch with those you love.

More globally, teleconferencing is literally shaping our world in its deployment in peace talks, partnerships, disaster-response and more in the political sphere, bringing together the world’s governments quickly and efficiently. There are countless hugely significant examples, like the US government’s call regarding partnerships in the Middle East, and more recently Trump’s conference call with the governor of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Inter-governmental telecommunication has even spawned some of our most popular and most parodied memes, like Cameron’s ‘on-the-phone-to-Obama’ snap.

We have seen countless times the power that the communication-enabling teleconference has to do good in the world – think of the united effort to aid Sudan in the face of famine.

But it seems that the potential of conference calling is now being taken even further, into the realms of medicine, literally helping to care for and cure individuals’ healths. For the first time, remote medical diagnostics and treatment are now being conceived as possibilities to make healthcare more convenient for the unwell, and to ease pressure on our struggling healthcare systems. Thanks to this developing robotic and teleoperate medical system, many patients might be able to obtain the diagnostics and care they need without actually needing to come face to face with their doctor. For those in remote areas or who are less able to travel great or small distances, this could literally save their lives, and give them back their capacity for self-sufficiency and a life not controlled by medical appointments.

Moreover, the demands on funding, time, resources, and staff would be colossally reduced and alleviated. These could then be much better organised and distributed, to make our healthcare systems as efficient as possible and ultimately cure more patients.

There is also the potentially overlooked but incredibly significant fact that the risk of spreading infections in a doctor’s surgery would be eliminated for all those patients who could access their healthcare remotely.

And, of course, the fact that people could be able to access the world’s experts within a specific field without having to board planes. Patients in less developed countries with fewer healthcare resources could contact doctors thousands of miles away. People trapped in war zones and natural disasters could be saved without doctors putting their own lives at risk too, in areas where consistent and effective medical assistance is genuinely an impossibility.

Of course, for many procedures and diagnostics a telephone will not suffice. But robots are being developed which can perform physical examinations using humidity, pressure, and force, observing the stiffness of internal organs and performing ultrasonographic examinations. These are robots which really could change the world.

Another medical area which is being potently enhanced by telecommunications is psychiatry, a global health crisis which is claiming more lives than murder; you are now your own worst enemy. If anybody is going to kill you, the probability is that it will be you. According to the World Health Organisation, around 800,000 people die by suicide every year: around one person in every 40 seconds. Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be tackled perhaps more than ever before.

Many people view the growth of telecommunication and its infiltration into our daily lives as one of the causes of this health crisis. But could it actually be a solution? Many counsellors have found that holding therapy sessions with their patients online is a really valuable way to help in treating conditions like depression. In fact, it is particularly apt for illnesses like unipolar and bipolar depression which can leave people feeling incapable of even leaving their bed, let alone getting showered, dressed, and leaving the house to attend therapy. Others may be too afraid or anxious to leave the house, or have a dangerously bad day or hour in which they need to reach their doctor immediately.

What’s more, as mentioned earlier, when it comes to medical attention not all locations were created equally. It’s sad, and unfair, but it is a fact. For many, adequate healthcare simply isn’t easily accessible. Telecommunications has the power to change that right now.

Of course, as with anything in any field, nothing can replace face to face communication entirely. This is something which even passionate promoters of virtual reality readily concede. We do not even have the technology to mimic eye-contact and body language realistically yet, and it is well known that these are the most important part of much human (and animal) communication. For many, online therapy is not a good option, and it is likely that most patients would want to use it in addition to more traditional therapy sessions.

There are an enormous array of medical and ethical questions and concerns to be addressed for each individual patient and each therapist when it comes to making decisions about online therapy. But there is no doubt that for many, it could be an invaluable addition to their treatment.

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