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The global pandemic has caused telehealth services to thrive. According to CNBC, about 10 million Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth services between March and August. Compared to the average 13,000 weekly appointments pre-pandemic, that number is exciting for telehealth advancement.
The pandemic has caused lawmakers and regulators to put expansions in place that provide people with better access to healthcare services. In order to understand the implications behind telemedicine, we must understand both the positive aspects, as well as potential drawbacks.
Pricing, transparency, and access to care
Telemedicine is a great way to provide affordable, convenient, and reliable care to more people throughout the world. A patient who has access to a computer, smartphone, or tablet, can receive care from a licensed physician anywhere, anytime.
The expansion of telehealth services has allowed patients to call in for urgent care check-ins, primary care appointments, behavioral health appointments, and comprehensive chronic condition care. Many people are still wary about returning to the physical doctor’s office, which is where telehealth shines. But once the pandemic subsides, we will still likely see ongoing telehealth usage.
While telehealth helps ease the anxiety of personal contact amidst the ongoing pandemic, it can also be extremely helpful beyond our current global situation. Telehealth services reduce the downtime between appointments. With virtual appointments, you schedule a time to speak with your doctor without the waiting room, or a 4-6 week scheduling delay.
Another positive aspect of telemedicine is the upfront, transparent pricing. Patients are given their rate before the appointment and they are billed that rate. No more surprise bills!
Easy access to a video call with a physician can save patients thousands of dollars in unnecessary emergency room visits. Telehealth appointments are extremely effective in diagnosing COVID-19, fevers, rashes, cold and flu symptoms, aches and pains, minor musculoskeletal injuries, small infections, and UTIs.
Behavioral Health Appointments
One area that has thrived with telemedicine usage is behavioral health appointments. Easy access to therapists and mental health professionals makes it simple for patients who may not have such access. The pandemic has taught us all the importance of both our physical health and mental health. Those who may not have reached out to a behavioral health professional before the pandemic, now have greater access.
Another aspect of virtual mental health services that most people have not considered is the benefit of providing care in the comfort of a patient’s home. Sometimes going into a physical office space can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable for patients. When they are in the comfort of their own home they are more likely to openly share their pain points. This helps therapists come to a quicker resolution and treatment.
Having to take three hours out of your day to commute to the doctor’s office, have your appointment, and then commute back can be troublesome. Hopping on Zoom or Facetime provides a solution to this issue. Instead of a three-hour-long investment, the patient only needs to allocate a 1-hour window to be off the clock.
Drawbacks of telehealth
One of the major drawbacks of telehealth is that in some cases, in-person medical care is necessary. Physical exams are impossible to complete over the phone, which may be necessary for some diagnoses or treatments.
Another aspect of telemedicine that can be concerning is the potential of a cybersecurity threat. While platforms are doing everything in their power to prevent cybersecurity hacks, sometimes breaches occur. As with anything on the internet, there’s a chance that patients’ personal health information will land in the wrong hands.
Lastly, patients may not always personally know the doctor they are communicating with. While doctors have done a great job so far establishing relationships virtually, it can still be challenging to create a personal connection without meeting patients in-person. Their lack of familiarity with you and your medical history may in turn play a role in their ability to provide a diagnosis.
Telehealth will not be the only option
It is safe to say that telehealth services will not be completely taking over the healthcare industry. While we will likely see a continued expansion of usage and platforms, in-person visits will never completely disappear. As previously stated, there are some things that cannot be diagnosed virtually. Broken bones, chronic diseases, and blood testing are among some services that cannot possibly be done virtually.
Telehealth is here to stay
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused telehealth usage to skyrocket. As most have seen over the past few months, telemedicine is an extremely convenient, affordable, and reliable option for patients. As its widespread usage continues, we can expect to see the telemedicine trend continue post-pandemic. Telemedicine and in-person physician visits when partnered together create a holistic healthcare experience that ensures patients are getting the best care they need.