Doctor Appointments Through Screens
Author: Isabel Zhang
From: Chicago, IL, US
Image Source: Openclipart
I don’t think anybody has ever thought they’d have a doctor appointment through a screen— that is, until COVID-19 hit. The pandemic forced the healthcare world to do a complete 180° turn and seek alternative ways of providing healthcare while limiting exposure to the virus. But how could doctors and physicians possibly be able to treat someone if they couldn’t be face to face?! Turns out, like everything else has been lately, the solution is virtual: telemedicine.
Some Background Information
Telemedicine is the practice of providing remote clinical services through call, video, or other telecommunication systems, allowing real-time monitoring and consultation between patients and healthcare providers.
This practice actually existed even before the pandemic, but just didn’t have the success story it’d hoped to achieve. In fact, a study in 2017 showed that 82 percent of consumers in the U.S. didn’t use such services. It makes sense: why get help through a screen when you could get help in-person?
How Telemedicine Has Been Doing a Great Job
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought telemedicine into a new light. The virtual method of healthcare is presenting itself as the ideal solution by limiting patient displacement to hospitals and allocating hospital capacity to critical cases, thereby slowing the spread of disease.
Because it doesn’t require travel, telemedicine has improved access to care by opening up the opportunity to provide immediate and quality care to the elderly, the disabled, those with chronic disease, and rural populations. It’s also provided convenience by allowing people to access care in the comfort and privacy of their own home, so people don’t have to take time off of work or arrange childcare.
In addition to patients, telemedicine has benefited healthcare providers. For example, healthcare workers are less exposed to illness and infections that their patients carry. In addition, their revenue may increase due to being able to care for more patients, and their overhead expenses may decrease (for example, they may pay less for front desk support or be able to invest in an office space with fewer exam rooms).
How Telemedicine Could Do Better
Although telemedicine has provided these advantages and many more, the sudden and rapid demand has also exposed the challenges it faces. For one thing, it requires technology and a reliable internet connection. This may increase disparities in health care access for vulnerable populations with limited access to technology or digital literacy. Another disadvantage is that not all insurers cover telemedicine. As of now, only 26 states require insurers to cover or reimburse telemedicine costs (though these laws are constantly changing).
A perhaps more obvious challenge is the question of reliability. Many people are concerned that doctors aren’t able to provide effective care based on the health conditions they observe via screen as they normally would be able to in-person. In addition, many are concerned about the privacy and security of their medical data from hackers or data brokers.
In terms of the challenges telemedicine presents healthcare providers, licensing laws in certain states prevent clinicians from practicing medicine across state lines (depending on the state in which they hold their license and the state in which the patient lives). Another disadvantage is that of the technological problems that come with navigating digital platforms and having weak internet connections, making it difficult to offer quality care. Moreover, healthcare providers aren’t able to examine patients in-depth and instead have to rely on patients’ self-reports of vitals during telemedicine sessions, which could compromise treatment if a patient leaves out an important symptom.
Conclusion: Looking Ahead
Telemedicine is a great option for convenient, immediate healthcare during such times like the current pandemic that restrict face-to-face interactions. However, it has yet to overcome many challenges including the ones we discussed; for instance, ensuring equity in health care access.
So as we move forward, the focus should be on developing innovative designs that improve existing infrastructure, address accessibility issues, and support healthcare providers’ professional development (to name a few). Solutions that leverage advances in consumer technologies and are grounded in a robust implementation plan will be the key to success in telemedicine, especially in the midst of COVID-19.
Though it may sound crazy now, a doctor appointment through a screen may become the new normal.
About the Author: Isabel Zhang
Isabel is a senior in high school, and is interested in biology and engineering. In her free time, she loves to bake, sketch, and hang out with her family.
COVID-19 and the rise of Telemedicine. (2020, April 10). Retrieved from https://medicalfuturist.com/covid-19-was-needed-for-telemedicine-to-finally-go-mainstream/
Telemedicine benefits: For patients and professionals. (2020, April 20). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/telemedicine-benefits#benefits