Telemedicine: Benefits, Challenges, and Managing Expectations
The global pandemic has shed new light on the necessity to use teleservices: from remote office work, which can be easily moved online, to finding innovative technological solutions for more demanding services, like medicine.
Healthcare apps are not new; most people have been using some apps for the last decade, including calorie counters, step trackers, and sleep monitors since the first iPhone was launched. Patients, especially younger ones, prefer to make appointments online, and health records are also becoming digital. Thus, the premises for telemedicine are in place; it just needs cost-effective solutions that would accommodate both its benefits and challenges.
The motivation and benefits behind telemedicine
The primary motivation behind having a telemedicine app even in non-pandemic times is that most medical appointments are not so complex as to require physical presence.
According to MBicycle’s healthcare app development experts
, a consultation via a call or an online app saves time and money, especially for the patient. While counting as billable time, it still costs less than seeing a doctor in person. In the case of telemedicine, the risk of no-show being late for a consultation is lower since access barriers are lower as well.
There is also the rising problem of the shortage of skilled medical specialists in remote and rural areas. For example, in the US, the ratio of healthcare specialists in rural areas is about 40 for 100,000 patients
. Using an app could drastically shorten the waiting time for patients who do not live near a top medical facility, and potentially even save their lives if the diseases are detected early on.
More engaged patients
When care is just a click away, it is easier to make patients more attentive to their health as well as more engaged. This gives them additional motivation to follow a prescribed regime or to give up bad habits.
Most of them are used to checking their phones often. It is therefore more simple to make them follow a treatment scheme by sending timely reminders to their mobile devices and to collect data by asking them to reply to simple text messages. Although this kind of interaction is automatic, it is more consistent than the traditional patient-doctor relationship, and can be the basis for collecting data in a secure and reliable way to understand how a condition is developing.
Overall, access to competent specialists, low consultation costs, and a way to keep in touch with the medical staff translates to better health services. The most significant benefit for the population is that it gives real-time access to on-demand care. This can have a positive impact on patients’ mental health, helping them avoid anxiety, depression, and stress by getting the answers they need on the spot.
Implementation and ethical challenges
According to Jonathan Linkous of the American Telemedicine Association, there are seven barriers to overcome when it comes to telemedicine: money, regulations, adoption, technology, evidence, hype, and competition. To these, we can add misdiagnosis and cybersecurity threats.
Money is closely linked to reimbursements. Telemedicine apps need to include ways to control financial abuse on the doctors’ side and prevent overutilization by patients. Until now, just a few procedures have been approved, as this is seen as a fee-for-service, not a medical act.
The medical sector has tight regulations, but in the case of telemedicine, these have to be adapted to the digital environment. There are also more general data privacy and cybersecurity concerns, since providing high-quality medical services requires access to sensitive personal data. A solution is to use end-to-end encryption and data anonymization.
The adoption curve of any new technology follows the path described in the book Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore. Most healthcare providers are not ready for telemedicine solutions, and they need additional motivation to use them as well as more training to be comfortable with the software. At the same time, there are problems linked to the large quantity of data and the safety of sending it over. Sometimes the adoption rate of a specific technology is highly reliant on the hype around it. Although this is natural for retail, for example, it shouldn’t be the same for telemedicine. A service like this should be subject to a stringent cost/benefit analysis.
All these factors combined show the way to success for telemedicine applications. If the population will start asking for these services, it means that the idea has reached a critical mass and will only be gaining more traction in the long term.
Last but not least, doctors are worried that telemedicine could lead to fewer in-person visits and more room for misdiagnosis, especially for those patients who are not able to articulate their symptoms very clearly, such as children. The solution is to use telemedicine as an additional solution, not a full-on replacement of one-to-one care delivery.
Telemedicine is just starting to become widely available and accepted. It is an industry expected to grow at a 19% CAGR
every year, at least until 2022. The driving factors are the growing numbers of senior and chronical patients, high rates of technology penetration, and a shortage of healthcare specialists. The current pandemic only highlighted the need for an alternative digital service.
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