Telemedicine – A Viable Alternative During the Covid Pandemic?

On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, radically changing the way medicine is practiced. In the span of a few weeks, as quarantining and social distancing became the norm, in-person medical visits plummeted, suddenly pulling telemedicine from the wings of medical care and thrusting it centre stage.

In the United States alone, there was a decrease of close to 42% of emergency department visits in April 2020 compared to the same timeframe in 2019. However, medical practices reported a boom of over 10,000% in video appointments to patient homes. Experts claim that the pandemic has ‘essentially accelerated U.S. digital health by about 10 years.’ And it’s not just in the US. Many parts of Europe and Asia have also experienced falling ED and clinic visits and a surge in digital health.

What is Telemedicine?

To understand whether or not telemedicine is here to stay, we need to understand what telemedicine actually is. In essence, the term refers to the provision of medical care at a distance through telecommunications technology. Broadly, it falls into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous telemedicine is performed in real time, such as a video call between a patient and a provider. It can also occur provider-to-provider, such as when an ED doctor consults with a remote stroke expert to develop the best treatment for a patient.

Asynchronous telemedicine includes “store-and-forward” technologies, such as online portals that allow patient–provider or provider–provider communications. It also includes chat bots, such as those designed to help a patient decide whether to get tested for the virus that causes COVID-19, and remote monitoring of patients through wearable or implantable devices.

What Are the Advantages of Telemedicine?

Telemedicine makes care more readily available to patients who have difficulty accessing it due to distance or disability. Removing the need for transportation is a huge advantage for high-risk populations, such as seniors and those with chronic medical conditions. Another major benefit of telemedicine is convenience. In one analysis, patients spent an average of 2 hours at a doctor’s appointment, yet only 20 minutes with the provider. The remaining time was spent on travel and waiting at the clinic.

A third major advantage of telemedicine is cost. A 2016 survey found that 93% of telemedicine users reported lower health care costs. Telemedicine also provides better confidentiality for patients who may not want to be seen in a clinic, and it affords family members scattered across the globe the opportunity to participate in their loved one’s care.

Is This Now The New Normal?

As the pandemic slows, many are wondering what will happen to telemedicine down the road. It’s unlikely that the current high utilization of telemedicine is going to persist in exactly the same way in the future, but it will almost certainly remain higher for both patients and providers than it was pre-pandemic, according to various medical experts, who go on to state that the silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis is that there is a hope that providers, their patients, regulators, and payers can embrace and support telemedicine as an essential enhancement to providing the best care possible.

The extent to which telemedicine remains an integral part of health care depends largely on whether the legislative, regulatory, and payer changes that have recently occurred become permanent. As a medical practitioner, do you feel this is a method you feel you should adopt to better serve your patients? If so, contact the experts at Nationwide Medical Licensing, who can give you all the details you need to become accredited. In the interim, share your views in the comments section below.

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