As the world breathes a collective sigh of relief in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry, like many other fields, is faced with the possibility of going remote. Telemedicine has been seeing growth in its adoption for many years now as technological awareness increases and more patients know that this is an option.
Telemedicine offers benefits for both patients and healthcare providers alike. On the patient’s end, you’re saved from the hassle of commuting to your nearest healthcare provider that offers the services you need. Plus, patients also do not have to take part in long wait times. This is because they can pick a time most convenient for them. Consequently, they receive treatment plans relatively quickly. With virtual healthcare, your wallet also takes less of a hit. The healthcare provider can arrange virtual consultations in addition to their regular practice, which leaves them in a position to take on more patients from the comfort of their own homes.
In spite of the many advantages offered by telemedicine, there are a number of challenges that leave a question mark on whether or not it can become a wider practice.
Issues That Are Preventing Telemedicine Adoption
One of the main impediments to the adoption of telemedicine is the fact that many places in the US, particularly rural areas, do not have the internet speed that telemedicine requires. This is an infrastructural issue that has to be dealt with before rural residents can fully make the most of telemedicine. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, about 38 percent of rural Americans do not have broadband access.
The affordability of broadband is also a roadblock to telemedicine adoption. A study by BroadbandNow, which is a data company based in the US, found that a whopping 145 million people in the US do not have access to an affordable plan for residential broadband.
It is also important to note that rural residents often need telemedicine options the most. This is because they might not find the specialized healthcare provider they require in their locality, and so a virtual consultation works best for them as opposed to a long trip.
Laws and Regulations
Another issue that makes healthcare providers hesitant to provide telemedicine is laws and regulations. Every state has its own telemedicine reimbursement rates, as well as regulations on how it can be used. It can be a bit tough for healthcare providers to have to deal with all these regulations. Moreover, in many states, healthcare providers are reimbursed less for remote consultations as compared to seeing patients in person. This makes many healthcare providers hesitant to provide telemedicine services as it ultimately means they’re pocketing less.
Moreover, telehealth services are also expected to be HIPAA Compliant. Failure to comply with these regulations means healthcare providers can be fined up to $50,000.
This issue can be resolved on the administrative level by introducing legislation that encourages healthcare providers to take up telemedicine instead of creating hurdles. On the healthcare provider’s part, they should invest in building a software development team that can create programs that meet HIPAA regulations.
Healthcare providers are not technologically literate.
Healthcare providers often lack the knowledge needed to integrate telehealth with existing systems such as EHRS. This absence of technical support makes healthcare providers less likely to offer telemedicine. A quick solution to this is for healthcare facilities to hire technical support staff that is equipped to deal with issues that arise when trying to incorporate telemedicine.
Lack of digital literacy
Another big factor that has hindered the adoption of telemedicine is the lack of technical awareness on the patient’s part. According to Syke America’s Perception of telehealth survey, 42 percent of respondents said that they were not acquainted with telemedicine practices. The fact is, if patients do not know that they have the option of telemedicine as an alternative healthcare route, it will not be taken up widely.
Furthermore, telemedicine comes with many formalities or boxes that have to be ticked, such as pre-admission, pre-medication, and pre-reconciliation before they have a telemedicine session.
Patients such as the elderly, who do not have a good rapport with technology, might find telemedicine too much of a handful and prefer a good old-fashioned trip to the doctor instead.
Telemedicine can be a powerful tool for patients to receive care while not sacrificing their convenience and comfort. While many challenges remain before telemedicine is adopted more conventionally, year-on-year trends have only shown a consistent increase in telemedicine use over the years, and this is expected to accelerate in the future. On the administrative level, it is apparent that legal frameworks are changing to be more accommodating of telemedicine as a healthcare practice, and so we can hope that an increasing number of healthcare practitioners will take up telemedicine.