We’re slowly starting to enter the post-COVID-19 era both in the U.S. and global economies, and a big part of that will be sorting out what “normal” will look like going forward. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are a number of innovations that businesses of all kinds had to experiment with out of necessity. One example is doing more medical office visits over the phone or by video conference. The pandemic pushed the medical community into the future and because of it, the telemedicine future is bright.
Advocates for telemedicine start with the basic principles of healthcare delivery: a conversation between a doctor and a patient about their health and putting together a plan of action. All technological development can be understood through that basic lens.
Telemedicine means different things to different people. Everything from the psychological makeup of the patient and doctor to the medical problem involved will play a role in what technology is used. Fundamentally, it simply means using technology to communicate rather than doing so face-to-face.
Once healthcare has been simplified back to this basic starting point, the case for telemedicine becomes clearer.
An example of where telemedicine might be used appropriately is in a discussion of symptoms. During the pandemic, healthcare facilities noted that patients who thought they might be asymptomatic for the coronavirus had to come into the hospital. It wasn’t unusual for a conversation with a doctor to be all that it took to give them a clean bill of health. Yet the trip to the medical office placed them at risk of the very virus they feared contracting.
Advocates say that moving forward, a medical issue like a urinary tract infection can often be discussed, diagnosed and have treatment prescribed without an office visit. As patients know all too well, a visit to a primary care provider (PCP) is often just a perfunctory administrative duty before going to see a specialist. Is there a reason that PCP visit can’t be done via a Zoom conference?
The answer to that question boils down to regulatory, licensing and insurance issues. HIPPA protections regarding privacy are there for patient security and any platform used for telemedicine will have to pass muster with regulatory bodies. The problems of Zoom calls being hacked are a good example of the challenges being faced.
Doctors must also be licensed to practice medicine in the state where their patient is. A patient might live in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City. It hasn’t been an issue before because they’ve gone to their PCP’s New York office, where the doctor is licensed. Will the doctor now need to get licensing in Connecticut to do telemedicine? If this same doctor also has patients in New Jersey, do they need licensing there? Licensing boards will have to decide.
Finally, we come to insurance. Will an insurance provider compensate the doctor the same for a telemedicine consultation as they would for an in-office visit? If not, will the doctor still do telemedicine? This is an issue that will have to be worked out between insurers and healthcare providers.
The challenges are real, but so is the potential for telemedicine.