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Telemedicine: The Future of Healthcare is Here to Stay

For many people, the word telemedicine is no longer just the latest tech buzzword but a real experience that has greatly simplified the provision of medical services. The field, which in many countries was nascent up until recently, has experienced a huge boom with this year’s pandemic. In the US, for the month of April 2020, more than 43% of Medicare primary care visits were conducted remotely, via telemedicine, compared to less than 0.1% in February.

However, the pandemic is not the only factor that has caused the boom of telemedicine in care delivery. The rapid implementation of digital technology in every industry, including healthcare, has also been a contributing factor.

With IoT devices, AI and robotics increasingly used in medical tools, the opportunities for telemedicine are endless; and manufacturers, software designers and health providers are all more than willing to take advantage of the infinite benefits that these provide.

One of the major obstacles to that is the fact that most governments have been caught unprepared by the lightning-fast development of the technology. In a way, the technology is far more advanced than it’s legally permitted to be, but there are already success stories of governments green-lighting telemedicine and reaping tremendous benefits from it.


The need for reform

Telehealth adoption is slow because of the lack of legislation and reluctance by governments to give doctors greater leeway in treating patients remotely. In Russia, for example, doctors do not have the legal right to write prescriptions in online consultations, which makes these much less effective than they could be.

While countries such as Germany and France have been at the forefront of remote care adoption, most other countries are new to this. With the pandemic, though, governments around the world have scrambled to pass legislation and introduce best practices, with many now moving toward permanent adoption of telemedicine after the pandemic trial period.

The US is a case in point. On August 3, President Trump signed an executive order to make permanent the temporary regulatory reforms to telemedicine that were initially adopted during the pandemic. An estimated $2 billion in federal funding has been provided to fund telemedicine services, with a particular emphasis on rural communities with traditionally dismal access to local medical services.

The executive order comes after healthcare providers increased pressure on the government to legislate the temporary pandemic-driven changes to telemedicine into permanent reforms. Having spent enormous funds and resources into building a telemedicine infrastructure during the pandemic, these providers balked at investing further into an industry that wasn’t necessarily going to stick around.

The government and insurers have made note of the fact that about 75% of all patients who used telemedicine reported that they were satisfied (or partially satisfied) with their experience, and that they would like telemedicine to be made a standard practice.

It is no surprise that the indicator is so high. For people with disabilities and those in rural communities, who often do struggle to reach doctors, telemedicine makes things easier. There’s also the very simple fact that telemedicine allows patients to save a lot of time.

Patients have also proven to be more likely to keep their remote medical appointments than their in-person appointments. They could reach doctors and receive appointments promptly, as they won’t necessarily be limited to a single institution. In addition, a virtual visit is cheaper than a live meeting.

The benefits of telemedicine

Video conferencing tools, enabled by solutions such as this eCare Patient portal, allow doctors to examine their patients online. Based on the diagnosis, doctors can schedule in-person visits, but follow-up visits and prescriptions can also be supported remotely. These systems are usually compliant with government regulations such as HIPAA and secured via encryption.

The introduction of remote surveillance in hospitals has also started with the implementation of Google Nest at New York’s Mount Sinai. The cam has been added to rooms to enable staff to remotely monitor patients with minimal person-to-person interaction. It will not only help with keeping medical workers away from patients with COVID-19, but it will also reduce workload in medical facilities where staff are stretched thin.

Telemedicine has some benefits that are not even offered by the traditional medical system, such as remote monitoring, which allows patients to use sensors and gadgets like smartwatches to monitor their vitals (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, etc.). Some of these devices can even administer medication to the patients. They help medical providers (as well as patients themselves) to keep an eye on the patient’s condition in the long term, or to react urgently in case of emergency.

In conclusion

We are all optimistic that telemedicine will become the new standard of healthcare. The technology will help both medical staff and patients in innumerable ways. However, it is critical that health services select a reliable technology partner to develop and support their solution so that sensitive data and emergency visits are processed instantly and safely.

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