The term telemedicine was coined when an Australian doctor used a two-way radio to transmit a medical advertisement in 1900. But the meaning of the term has evolved drastically over time. Telemedicine refers to providing virtual remote healthcare with the healthcare service provider and the patient in different physical locations.
Today, the communication tools used in telemedicine are smaller, more advanced, and far more effective than the tools that were used when telemedicine first originated.
Initially, telemedicine technologies were meant to provide medical services to those who lived in regions that did not have a hospital. However, for people living in developed and developing countries, these technologies are a matter of convenience rather than a necessity. In the wake of the recent COVID-19 virus outbreak, things have changed significantly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. Governments all around the world have initiated nationwide lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. In times such as this, people are restricted from leaving their homes. If people require any healthcare service, the only option they have is to use a telehealth app.
These apps allow them to consult with a medical professional from the comfort of the homes. In such dire times, telemedicine apps have once again become a necessity. Analysts predict that the telemedicine industry will grow significantly in the coming years.
However, the transition from traditional healthcare solutions to telehealth will not be one that is easy. There are many barriers to telehealth implementation that will slow down the rate of adoption of telehealth solutions.
Here are some of the most common barriers to telehealth that we face today:
A high-speed and reliable internet connection is considered as a prerequisite to run most telemedicine applications. However, internet coverage is still not widely available in developing countries, particularly in rural and remote areas. Therefore, the lack of reliable and high wideband internet poses a barrier to our smooth transitioning into telemedicine services.
The biggest barrier to the development and implementation of telemedicine services is the lack of a formal organizational structure. The lack of collaboration between stakeholders, and the unpreparedness of the healthcare industry to adopt digital technologies, results due to the absence of a formal organizational structure. These barriers are the most significant bottlenecks in the development of telemedicine.
Currently, the cost of customer acquisition is one of the biggest challenges to telemedicine. Though the market for telemedicine is growing, healthcare service providers are concerned that due to the lowered consultation and treatment costs on telemedicine apps, they will not be able to make any profits. Some healthcare service providers believe that market forces will not allow them to compete in the telehealth industry. As a result, they will incur losses.
Another telehealth barrier is the purpose for which patients use telehealth services. Most patients that use telehealth solutions only use it for headaches, sore throats, earaches, and running noses. While it is more convenient for these patients to use telemedicine apps, the industry as a whole will not change unless telemedicine replaces patient visits regarding more severe issues. This transformation is happening but at a slow pace. Over the course of the decade, we can expect to see monumental changes in the healthcare industry.
This is the telehealth barrier that patients are most concerned about. Sometimes, the virtual doctor may not be able to diagnose the patient’s symptoms adequately. This may lead to unnecessary prescriptions and drive up costs.
Telemedicine solutions do have their drawbacks, but telemedicine can overcome its barriers and reach their full potential if patients and healthcare service providers are appropriately educated about telehealth services. Here are some of the ways in which these telemedicine barriers can be overcome.
The use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) provides doctors with a complete history of a patient’s illnesses. This improves the accuracy of the diagnosis and reduces the probability of misdiagnosis. It also speeds up the process of treating the patient.
With the help of telehealth solutions, healthcare providers can monitor patients after their treatment. By checking on patients after they have been discharged, hospital readmissions can be reduced. This also helps the patients trust the virtual healthcare industry more. As a result, they will feel encouraged to use telehealth apps even for more severe illnesses.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stated that funding for broadband internet is imperative to level the playing field in the healthcare industry. The FCC’s initiatives such as Connected Care NPRM, and the Rural Digital Opportunity fund are striving to bring reliable broadband networks with low latency and sufficient upload bandwidth to support telehealth requirements in rural areas.
Many healthcare organizations lack a formal structure and the technological sophistication that is required to adopt telemedicine services and more advanced healthcare delivery models. This barrier can be resolved by incorporating telemedicine training as part of the medical school curriculum.
This will change society’s expectations of medical professionals in the future. As a result, healthcare professionals will be trained to use the right telemedicine equipment and keep up with the ever-changing advancements in technology.
The policies that deal with reimbursement rules in the healthcare industry have not been updated to include telemedicine services. As more healthcare organizations have started to use telemedicine technologies to create new revenue streams, several medical service providers have started to lobby for more favorable payment policies.
As a result, more states have started to enact new telehealth insurance coverage. In the near future, the current payment parity laws will be amended to account for the rising popularity of telemedicine.
Telemedicine solutions have already become a recognized and valued segment of the healthcare industry. In the near future, telehealth solutions could be adopted at a significantly faster rate due to it being offered as a covered benefit, which is part of a comprehensive health plan. But if you invest in it right now, you will undoubtedly see long-term clinical and financial returns.