It is true that telemedicine has been around for quite some time now, going back as long as a couple of decades in some developed countries. Historically, doctors have treated patients over telephone calls once in a while. But the practice had never assumed such gigantic proportions as it does in the world today. A surge of COVID-19 cases across the globe has infused telemedicine with a new lease on life.
Healthcare centres are tremendously stressed and people are wary of visiting hospitals for the fear of getting infected. This has justifiably led to a dramatic increase in the use of telehealth services. Almost 46% of patients in the USA have used telemedicine in 2020 compared to a meagre 11% in 2019. Investments in telemedicine platforms are rising rapidly. It is predicted that potentially $250 billion of current US healthcare could end up being used virtually. But is this growth here to stay? A quick look at the facts below will give us a clearer picture.
Increasing Acceptance of Telemedicine
The use of telemedicine saw a sharp spike only after the world was subjected to a pandemic. Telehealth ensured risk-free communication between patients and healthcare providers.
However, what started as a means to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases is now bracing for broader acceptance and implementation.
Trust barriers for telemedicine have been broken and patients have shed inhibitions. The feeling that a reliable diagnosis cannot be made on the phone or online is no longer there. Patients have started using telehealth not just for COVID-19 but also for other general health conditions such as fever, cough, cholesterol, thyroid, and even follow-ups for diabetes and hypertension. Digital doctors and cloud clinics have become the norm of the day.
Changing Healthcare Regulations
Further, governments have opened up their healthcare sectors to make them more tele-friendly. Both regulators and payers have granted significant flexibility for remote treatment. Earlier this year, the USA removed major roadblocks by ensuring payment parity between telehealth and clinical care as well as by removing penalties for certain HIPAA violations. Developing nations like India have also taken strides in this direction by making text, audio, and video-based medical care legal.
Is Telemedicine the New Face of Healthcare?
In the wake of a pandemic that has literally pushed everyone and everything indoors, the shift to a more virtual and tele-friendly healthcare system was inevitable. However, the success of telehealth in continuing an alternative means to traditional clinical care will depend a lot on other factors like improved internet access and better integration of technology, the collaboration between a broad set of providers, and continued government support.
Telemedicine, a term that most of us were not even aware of a few months ago, has disrupted the healthcare industry like never before. Initial trust barriers have been broken and patients are now more comfortable conversing with their doctors from a distance. Regulations have been eased providing the industry with a much-needed impetus. Even so, it would be foolhardy to assume that telehealth would completely replace clinical care. But, post-COVID, we will definitely see the emergence of a new hybrid healthcare solution that incorporates the benefits of both physical and telehealth services.