The New Normal?
Telemedicine has allowed the medical establishment to provide services to patients during a time where a furious demand to shift human-to-human contact to the digital realm exists.
For most patients, telemedicine seems so new and novel, but the telehealth infrastructure to provide medical services remotely has been growing quietly for the past decade.
First of all, the technology to stream reasonably high-resolution videos didn’t materialize overnight. Tech companies like Zoom, Skype, Twitch, etc… have been seeking solutions to improve the quality and performance of video streaming.
Furthermore, telehealth was experiencing rapid growth before COVID-19. Insurance claims for medical care provided by telehealth grew by 53% between 2016 and 2017.
There is a real demand for telemedicine. Hence, it is here to stay, but there are uncertainties to consider. Medical advances and adoptions don’t occur in a vacuum and to understand how far telemedicine and telehealth will advance, it makes sense to examine some of the most important uncertainties, which we’ll do below.
We are living in unprecedented times, and Governments across the world have acknowledged this. As a result of COVID-19, patients stopped visiting doctor’s offices and hospitals due to stay at home orders. But the thing is, the demand for medical services didn’t cease. The demand is still there.
As a result, Governments relaxed regulatory barriers for telehealth back in March, and years worth of regulatory approval, and consumer adoption were reduced to weeks.
Now, The real question is “Will Governments formally codify these temporarily relaxed regulations?”
No one knows for sure.
Adoption of Telemedicine by Insurance Companies
Just as medical practitioners and patients have had to adapt, insurance companies have had to adapt too.
Following Medicare’s lead, most major insurers have expanded what services can be offered virtually and have waived cost-sharing for consumers. As of now though, these changes are usually being offered month to month as opposed to permanently.
In this article, Doctors and vendors argue “Paying the same for telehealth and in-person services could cut down on the costs of operating brick-and-mortar locations. Facility fees paid by the federal government could drop sharply if doctors pivot to telehealth in large numbers, and doctors would have less overhead in staffing and rent”.
So, insurers offering coverage to include telehealth and telemedicine seems like a no brainer.
The problem is that insurance companies are concerned that telehealth would be used as a precursor to, or in addition to, in-person services, instead of as a replacement for them.
In other words, the right incentives have to be there for insurance companies to be fully on board.
Will Telemedicine work?
One persistent use of telehealth has been in the perennial doctor’s visit we all experience. Typically, you’ll arrive, have your heart listened to, have your blood drawn, and height and weight taken. Afterward, typically at another appointment, the doctor will reveal the results of the tests and provide feedback on improving or maintaining your health.
This is where telehealth provides an advantage. Consulting with the doctor at another, in-person, appointment, after being subject to a battery of tests, is no longer necessary, as the appointment can be teleconferenced.
Furthermore, can we eliminate the in-person routine check-up altogether? Are there tools out there, which are easy enough to use, for patients to measure their vitals, height, weight, etc… to a medically precise standard?
Well, here’s a mobile ECG which offers a wide range of evaluations. Also, consider that patients have been mailing blood samples to be tested, for a while now.
It’s radical to assume that the checkup will be completely replaced by telehealth, but the visit to the doctor will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future.
What will the future of medicine look like?
With all of the uncertainty mentioned above, can we even draw reasonable conclusions about the future of telemedicine? We think so.
Telemedicine will not completely erase the need for contact with a physician. It’s obvious why: Patients will still have to undergo sophisticated procedures and tests which require the in-person presence of a trained practitioner. Also, the technology just isn’t there yet to administer accurate, in-home testing of vitals. A form of hybrid, in person and remote visit will likely dominate as convention for the near future.