Given that, in recent years, high-speed internet has begun transforming all sorts of industries, it should be of no surprise that this is also true of the medical field. Telemedicine, the act of communicating with a healthcare provider through some means of a two-way, digital tool, has become increasingly common in the last several years.
Telemedicine isn’t just seen as another alternative to traditional, face to face medicine, but it’s seen as a way to reduce costs throughout the industry. This gives patients more options and flexibility in terms of scheduling and access to healthcare, which is especially important for working folks, or people with limited mobility.
There are a few different ways to practice telemedicine. First, it can be done simultaneously, where the patient and the healthcare professional are communicating in real-time, either through a chat on the patient’s own device or at a designated space for telehealth. Second, professionals can do telehealth asynchronously: they can record advice and send it to the patient through a secure portal. Often, the patient can save this for their own records and later review.
This boom in telemedicine, of course, is coming with some otherwise unforeseen consequences that we must deal with in order to make sure that the system keeps working as intended. Because it is so new, many states have not had time to regulate telemedicine in meaningful ways. In most states, Medicaid allows for the use of telemedicine.
Overall, this field is moving rather quickly. In 2011, fewer than a dozen states had parity laws, which are intended to maintain consistent quality standards between in-person and telemedicine. By 2015, 200 such laws had been proposed at the state level as bills.
Of course, since this is at the state level, there is a great deal of variation between these laws. This poses a particular issue for telemedicine services providers, who in some cases do their business across state lines, which puts them in a confusing spot of having to figure out which set or sets, of laws and rules, apply to them with a particular patient.
Many traditional medical practices are being somewhat slow to adopt telemedicine as a method for reaching their patients, citing not only legal and technological hurdles but also major concerns about the privacy of patient data. This is in addition to methodological concerns for overall patient health, since telehealth visits are often one-time affairs, without that information necessarily making its way back to the patient’s primary doctor.
That telemedicine is here to stay is something of a given. The increasingly mobile, digital, and busy patients of the 21st century will benefit from easier access to a doctor. Telemedicine is also a safe way to provide basic care in instances of a national quarantine or during the need for people to practice social distancing.
In addition, the ability of telemedicine to serve patients that may otherwise have limited to no access to medical facilities is a promising area for future expansion. This is true of people with mobility issues, but, additionally, may hold a great deal of potential for people in more rural communities, which have been historically underserved by traditional medical care.
With that increasingly fast expansion of telehealth, though, some hurdles remain. There are, of course, the technological challenges. Setting up a secure connection and video chat with certain populations can be a challenge. However, there are tech companies like Zoom, Discord, and Google who provide free, easy to use voice and video services for conferencing.
Second, there is no one single regulatory framework for telehealth. This has led to a lot of unevenness in standards and quality within the medical industry. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, governments and medical institutes are quickly adopting standards for implementing care via telecommunication.
Finally, the concerns about data privacy common to popular discourse are doubly true for telehealth. Again, with the advent of one technology comes the rules and regulations and standards to operate.
With all of that said, with the coordination of patients, healthcare professionals, and regulators, it is more than likely that telehealth will make up a growing segment of the healthcare segment in the years to come.
About Author: Shirley is a content writer at 10Twick, who has written on a technology, from Jewellery to SEO Software. In her free time, she enjoys dancing, sketching, cooking, and shopping.