Telemedicine, the video-based process of medical diagnosis and care, is still a new concept, and there are many skeptics about its future. This is markedly different than telehealth, which is the use of apps and other communications technology to inform the public about health-related matters, such as disease outbreaks. Instead, this represents a transformation of medicine to a form that’s arguably more convenient, more available, and more efficient.
But are the benefits of telemedicine enough to outweigh its costs, and is the general public “on board” with telemedicine enough to support its development?
The Current State of Telemedicine
Before we talk about the potential future of telemedicine, we have to examine its present. Though telemedicine does have challenges to overcome, as Vyopta explains, it’s already being used for a variety of applications, including:
- Follow-up visits. Follow-up visits don’t usually require in-depth physical examinations, so it’s more convenient for both parties to engage in follow-up appointments remotely.
- Chronic disease management. Chronic diseases, including asthma, arthritis, fatigue, and chronic pain, are difficult to manage and often require many appointments, without many differing results. Telemedicine can ease the burden of these frequent visits on both doctors and patients.
- Post-hospitalization care. Similar to follow-up visits, telemedicine can be used to easily check in on patients who have recently been admitted to a hospital for emergency care.
- Preventative care. Telemedicine is an ideal route for promoting preventative healthcare measures, including weight loss and smoking cessation.
- School-based care. Telemedicine could be an ideal way to provide medical treatment to children in schools, to determine if further urgent care is needed.
- Assisted living-based care. Residents of assisted living programs can also benefit from telemedicine, decreasing hospital visits and expediting immediate care provision.
Investments in New Technologies
Many businesses, from many industries, are investing in the future of telemedicine, including tech companies trying to produce better audiovisual equipment and medical professionals equipping themselves to dispense better remote care. In fact, according to the Telemedicine Market Report by Mordor Intelligence, the telemedicine industry is expected to grow to $66.6 billion by 2021, with a CAGR of 18.8 percent over the next five years.
Increasing Demand for Remote Medicine
Our society is going increasingly remote, thanks to the availability of mobile technology and internet access. Some companies, like Buffer, have managed to go completely “remote,” abandoning the office environment altogether, and eliminating costs like rent, equipment leasing, and transportation costs for its workers. If hospitals and clinics could go at least partially remote, it would save significant costs for both medical professionals and patients, and as other areas of our lives become increasingly remote, demand for mobile availability in this area will correspondingly increase.
There are a handful of significant obstacles preventing telemedicine from meeting this rising demand, at least not immediately, including:
- Legal concerns. Laws regarding the practice and reimbursement of telemedicine are created at the state level, and while many states have passed telemedicine laws, specific legislation is still in a transitional state, making it hard to set firm policies.
- Reimbursement. Reimbursement for services rendered via telemedicine isn’t as straightforward as it is for traditional office visits. Ambiguities around legal policies, organization policies, insurance, and location make things complicated—and make medical providers avoid telemedicine just to prevent the associated headaches.
- Technology. The technology required for telemedicine is also a barrier. Not only do there need to be sufficient apps and devices available to provide detailed, accurate healthcare remotely, we also need to make sure both providers and recipients of telemedicine can afford the costs associated with that technology.
The In-Person Factor
Patient-physician relationships are very important for ensuring patient compliance, improving recovery rates, and sustaining a better healthcare organization. Most current patient-physician relationships are established on the grounds of in-person contact, which feels closer and more personal than digital communication (to most people). If we sacrifice the in-person nature of doctor visits, it could be argued that patient-physician relationships could splinter, resulting in overall less effective healthcare provision, and decreased medicinal value. Obviously, this is subjective and hasn’t been studied on a wide scale to determine effectiveness, but it’s a considering factor we should bear in mind as telemedicine develops.
Where Does Telemedicine Go From Here?
With rising demand and interest in telemedicine, it’s unlikely that momentum for the technology is going to slow down, even with significant challenges and opposition in place. We’re still waiting on more detailed information about telemedicine’s effectiveness and potential, which will only come in time, but even if telemedicine is only partially as effective as traditional in-person care, it still has enough benefits to warrant its existence.
The bottom line here is that the development of telemedicine is unavoidable, and while there are some serious problems to solve in its provision, it’s still likely to unfold more completely within the next five years.