What is Telemedicine?
While the use of telemedicine can be traced back to the 1950s, its use gained tremendous popularity in recent years, especially during the rise of COVID-19. In fact, the number of telehealth services increased dramatically—15x the pre-pandemic level (from 2.1 million the year prior to 32.5 million in the 12 months from March 2020 to February 2021). But what exactly is it? Telemedicine refers to the delivery of healthcare services through remote technologies, such as video conferencing, electronic health records (EHRs), and mobile applications. The use of telemedicine has been growing in recent years, and its importance in healthcare is becoming increasingly apparent. In this blog we’ll discuss some of the types and benefits of telemedicine, main challenges in adoption, and its future in healthcare transformation.
Benefits of Telemedicine in Healthcare
Telemedicine offers increased convenience for both patients and healthcare providers. Some of these include:
Improved access to healthcare for remote or underserved populations
Telemedicine can help overcome geographic barriers and provide access to healthcare services for individuals living in rural or remote areas. Additionally, the service can benefit individuals who may have difficulty accessing care due to physical disabilities or transportation issues.
Increased convenience for patients and healthcare providers
Telemedicine allows patients to receive healthcare services from the comfort of their own homes, reducing the need for travel and time away from work or school. Telemedicine can also improve efficiency for healthcare providers by reducing the need for in-person appointments.
Reduced healthcare costs
Virtual care reduces the overall cost of healthcare by limiting unnecessary visits, eliminating travel expenses, and improving efficiency for healthcare providers.
“Telehealth provided a more efficient platform that allowed us to invest in other areas, such as our call center. We were able to focus on filling more care gaps by increasing outreach to our high-risk members." - Dr. Jose Francisco Carrazco, Happy Kids
Improved patient outcomes
Healthcare providers are able to early detect, diagnose, and curate a personalized treatment plan for illnesses, improving patient engagement and outcomes while reducing hospitalizations and the risk of complications.
Types of Telemedicine
Real-time telemedicine (video conferencing): Real-time telemedicine involves a live video conference between a patient and healthcare provider, allowing for immediate assessment and diagnosis.
Store-and-forward telemedicine (sharing data and images): Store-and-forward telemedicine involves sharing patient data and images, such as x-rays or test results, with healthcare providers in different locations.
Remote patient monitoring (tracking and managing patient health data): Remote patient monitoring allows healthcare providers to monitor and manage patient health data, such as blood pressure or blood sugar levels, remotely.
Telemedicine Use Cases
Primary care consultations: Telemedicine can provide convenient access to primary care services, such as diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of chronic conditions.
Mental health consultations: Telemedicine can be used to provide mental health services, including counseling and therapy, to individuals who may not have access to in-person services.
Chronic disease management: Telemedicine can improve chronic disease management by allowing healthcare providers to remotely monitor and manage patient health data, reducing the need for in-person appointments and hospitalizations.
Remote patient monitoring for post-operative care: Telemedicine can be used to monitor patients after surgery, reducing the need for hospital readmissions and improving patient recovery.
Challenges in Telemedicine Adoption
Lack of reimbursement for telemedicine services: Some healthcare providers may not be reimbursed for telemedicine services, creating a financial barrier to adoption.
Limited access to technology in some areas: Rural or remote areas may not have access to the technology necessary for telemedicine services.
Regulatory and legal issues: Telemedicine is subject to regulatory and legal issues, such as licensing and privacy concerns.
Future of Telemedicine
Potential for further integration with artificial intelligence and other technologies: Telemedicine has the potential to integrate with artificial intelligence and other technologies, improving efficiency and patient outcomes.
Continued growth and expansion of telemedicine services: Telemedicine is projected to continue to grow and expand, with increased use in areas such as mental health and chronic disease management.
Greater acceptance of telemedicine as a standard of care: It is expected that telemedicine will become more widely accepted as a standard of care, with increased adoption by healthcare providers and policymakers.
With nearly 70% of providers labeling telehealth as “convenient” and 90% identifying convenience as the leading benefit of telehealth for patients, it’s reasonable to conclude that telehealth is here to stay. While its numerous advantages in healthcare, including improved access to care, increased convenience, reduced costs, and improved patient outcomes are evident, challenges such as lack of reimbursement and limited access to technology cause apprehension. However, as more payers and providers shift toward a value-based care delivery model, organizations and policymakers should focus on addressing these challenges to support the widespread adoption of telemedicine to drive the future of healthcare.