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What is Telenephrology?

What is Telenephrology? It is a process utilized by a Nephrologist, as well as other doctors and specialists, to reach patients in remote locations, as well as improve consults. It is a complex integrated service that is used in medical facilities, doctor’s offices, and other medical centers around the world. Telenephrology is a spin off from telemedicine, which has been around for more than 50 years. Technology has changed drastically over that time. It all began with the use of electromagnetic signals and being able to send information among long distances. Think the telegraph, radio, and telephone; these were early forms of communication. However, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that people began to see how these items could be used to further the medical field.

The History of Telemedicine

Telemedicine was first used in the 1950’s. There were some test hospitals that started experimenting with how they could utilize telemedicine to better their practices. The Teleradiology system was built by a Canadian doctor and began being used in the Montreal area. Nearly 10 years later, in 1959, a group of physicians at the University of Nebraska began to transmit neurological examinations to students via televisions that were two-way interactive. It only took five years for them to be able to get permission to use a telemedicine link that allows them to service customers 112 miles away at the Norfolk State Hospital. The results were amazing.

The 1960’s Bring Big Changes

The U.S. government became involved after seeing the potential. This would allow them to reach urban populations and those areas where there were healthcare shortages. They could also respond to medical emergencies and help in consults without delay. The 1960’s brought big changes. NASA, The Government, Health Department and Department of Defense all dove into the research and modernization of telemedicine. They learned that they can send cardiac rhythms during a time of emergency. Miami University Medical Center was one of the first areas to began sending electro-cardiac rhythms over voice radio channel. They could send these to any rescue site to assist fire and rescue departments. They tested these programs on Native Americans that were living on the Papago Reservation.

How Telemedicine is Revitalizing The Medical Field

The telemedicine field is growing faster than before. As technology keeps advancing, the widespread affordability and convenience of telemedicine tools does too. Most of the US has the ability to use sites like Skype and Facetime via a mobile device. The original reason that this was created was to reach patients who were in remote areas and didn’t have health care easily accessible. However today it has become a tool that is used far and wide within the health community. Utilizing these services means that today’s patient doesn’t have to drive to the doctor or wait in line for a minor incident.

This is also reducing the burden n medical professionals who have a long day of seeing patients. With this service, some clinics are offering their patients services 24 hours a day. Another important consideration is the various amounts of health apps and mobile medical devices that are available to the general public. They are helping to further this movement. Patients are becoming more proactive about using technology to help manage their health. This plays right into the telemedicine, as taking vitals and glucose levels can help a doctor gather information for a diagnosis right through the two-way monitor.

How Nephrologists Are Utilizing Telemedicine

A Nephrologist is a doctor who handles problems with the kidneys. The first telenephrology system was introduced in 2009 by giving it to five family practices to try. By 2011, more than 28 facilities were utilizing this system, as well as 5 hospitals solely for nephrology care. Nurse practitioners became very important, as they worked on behalf of the family physician to lighten the patient load. The referral process was typical with a face-to-face consultation, but the patient had the choice of either traditional methods or a consult by telenephrology.

The rate of chronic kidney disease has risen over 13 percent since 2004 in the US. The use of the GFR, or glomerular filtration rate test, has allowed enhanced prevalence. However, this has increased the burden on the health care system. Cost-effective management systems were needed for these patients. The family physicians typically do a consultation either by phone or email. It is a great deal of information that has to be communicated.

A Web-based consultation service was the answer. Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center designed a system that was specific for Nephrologists called telenephrology. This allows the family physician to upload data relevant to their patient with kidney disease. On the other end, the Nephrologist can extract the information and use the data to help with the patient’s treatment plans.

The System Was A Success

The results of the system were impressive. Between the months of May 2009 through August of 2011, there were 12 new consultations reported. The average consultation took 9 minutes. 73 percent of those consultations took place between 8 am and 7 pm daily. It took the average nephrologists 1.6 days to answer their consult request; this is a significant time savings over the traditional methods, which is about three days. Some doctors even reported that by utilizing this system their general knowledge of nephrology improved and allowed them to get a better understanding of their patient’s case. In return, the nephrologists were able to see that the physicians were learning, based on how they asked questions.

Time Equals Money

When dealing with specialists, like the nephrologist, telemedicine allows the medical community to save money. The process of bringing a person into the office for a consult is often long and involves may medical employees to ensure a productive visit. However, the e-consultation is breaking down walls between the physician and the specialist and allowing them to work seamlessly for effective patient care. This will improve survival and morbidity of patients, as well as reduce overall burdens to insurance companies, the government, and those who pay out of pocket. Telemedicine is evolving and changing the way doctors and specialists see their patients and run their practice. Sign up for a telemedicine demo for more insight.

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