As hospitals and medical providers continue operating amid COVID-19, telemedicine is proving to be a promising solution.
Telemedicine removes the need for doctors and patients to meet physically — satisfying social distancing guidelines. But it’s still an emerging field, and the current situation is far from perfect.
There are a few challenges in telemedicine implementation worth highlighting below. Overcoming these hurdles will be vital in unlocking better health outcomes for all.
Lack of access to digital tools
The growth of telemedicine has signaled a shift to a better way of delivering healthcare. It’s very convenient for patients to simply schedule an online conference call with a doctor — instead of being present for an in-person appointment.
However, not everybody has access to the technological means that makes telemedicine possible.
According to the Pew Research Center, those with lower incomes are at risk of being on the unfortunate side of the digital divide. In particular, Hispanic and low-income tech users worry about covering internet and phone bills.
The medical community recognizes that internet access has become a necessity in today’s world, especially now that the COVID-19 has forced households to adhere to some form of social distancing protocol.
For telemedicine services (e.g., mobile integrated healthcare or MIH and remote diagnosis and prescription) to succeed, the industry must find ways to accommodate the needs of vulnerable populations. One approach is to screen for connectivity capability and helping patients gain access to a device for a limited period.
Risk of misdiagnosis
There are many benefits to conducting medical check-ups via digital means. But the considerable distance between doctor and patient can increase the risk of misdiagnosis.
During in-person appointments, it’s not unusual for misdiagnosis to take place. That doesn’t bode well for telemedicine, which is still in its early stages of adoption.
For instance, if a doctor cannot make a conclusive diagnosis, the patient may resort to physically visiting a hospital or clinic. The facility could reveal a minor condition that did not necessarily need an in-person visit. Such a scenario could expose both the patient and facilities to unnecessary expenses.
As a result, this can drive up the total business costs of implementing telemedicine. If the latter is intended to make healthcare more affordable and accessible, then industry leaders and professionals must have systems in place to mitigate misdiagnosis.
Another challenge involves the issue of reimbursement for telemedicine services. Currently, in-person healthcare services offer better compensation.
If the medical industry plans to ramp-up telemedicine, it has to ensure that proper incentives are in place for organizations and providers. The obvious place to start is improving and standardizing payment for telemedicine.
Since it is still in its emerging stages, it will be an uphill battle to ensure comparable payment. In the 28 states where payment parity laws have been approved, it’s still unclear how the government can operationalize relevant rules.
Also, Medicare’s coverage does not provide adequate reimbursement for fee-for-service systems. And even if payment is possible, it’s mostly limited to certain types of institutions and non-urban areas.
The collaboration between technology companies and medical organizations can help overcome this challenge. These stakeholders must work together to innovate payment structures while taking into account the realities of the healthcare market.