When everyone is busy, being poorly can be an inconvenience that many people don't have the time to deal with. Doctors, too, are some of the busiest professionals in the world and are often struggling under the weight of too much work without the time or resources to cope.
One solution to the ever present challenge of finding the time to see a doctor are telemedicine - also known as telehealth solutions. Creating new ways for the doctor patient communication that are more cost and time effective for both parties.
What is telemedicine and telehealth?
Telemedicine is the use of digital technologies and tools like video conferencing, instant messengers and smart devices to provide healthcare services over a distance. This term refers specifically to the remote delivery of clinical services, i.e. evaluating, diagnosing and treating patients via secure video/audio connections.
The terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used as synonymous. However, there is a slight difference between them. In addition to clinical services, telehealth includes a broader range of health-related services aimed at improving the healthcare delivery system as a whole, such as health education and administrative activities.
Telemedicine technology is commonly used to allow and facilitate remote patient-doctor communication for:
- follow-up visits,
- monitoring patients with chronic diseases,
- medication management,
- preventative care.
Telemedicine platforms are part of the larger digital health market. According to forecasts, the digital health market is set to exceed $200 billion and the telemedicine market solely is expected to reach $41 billion globally. Evidently, patients and doctors are embracing new ways to communicate, diagnose solutions and prescribe treatments.
Embrace telemedicine apps
In recent years, governments have been looking into and supporting trial studies of how to use telemedicine in rural areas. In Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, for example, a $1.4 million study was implemented in 2016 to fight opioid addiction.
In rural areas, reaching patients and patient coverage is not as effective as in urban areas, putting people at risk, especially the elderly and vulnerable. Similar trials and programs have been rolled out in parts of the UK, Australia and Africa.
Another example of this is a partnership between the US’s largest drugstore chain, Walgreens, and telemedicine software provider, MDLive. Through their virtual care service, Walgreen’ customers can consult board-certified medical specialists, 24 hours a day. That deal was a success and was soon rolled out to twenty more states where patients with a range of conditions found it more difficult to reach a doctor or get the medicine they need.
Healthcare experts, such as Martha Vockley, a principal of VockleyLang LLC, expect new delivery models and solutions to be rolled out in the next few years and “not just in remote locations or for select patient populations.” It seems that telehealth, in a variety of formats, is the future for healthcare.
Gartner, a smart predictor of technology trends believes we “on the threshold of a seismic change” and that healthcare providers “now recognize the value of virtual care and telemedicine.”
However, there are still challenges when it comes to adoption rates. Let’s take a look at some of those and what doctors, medical providers and telehealth companies can do to overcome some of these challenges.
Overcoming challenges of telemedicine
Rolling out telemedicine solutions is not seamless.
Compliance with laws and regulations
Healthcare providers - whether private or publicly funded - operate under a mountain of rules and regulations. Apps that provide these services needed to safely adhere to these guidelines, for the sake of patients and doctors. It isn’t as simple as texting or calling your doctor and expecting a virtual consultation whenever a patient wants one.
Integration and administrative issues
Healthcare providers also need to ensure that the teams that respond to telehealth messages and calls know the patients’ medical history, if that isn’t a service provided directly by a doctor. So any telemedicine software solutions created for this purpose must align and function alongside other healthcare apps and platforms. Systems must integrate securely and seamlessly.
Organizational problems & lack of awareness
A telemedicine app also needs to sync with doctor or medical provider calendar and other software applications. You need to know that those providing the service can deliver within the hours it’s advertised. And that is another challenge: making sure that patients, who might want to see a doctor face-to-face know that the service exists and are encouraged to use it.
Costs of breaking into the market
It has proven useful to spend at least as much promoting and advertising a new service as it costs to create an app that makes the service possible. A telehealth app needs to be easy-to-use and advertised well. Once patients are aware and there is sufficient evidence of social proof, use amongst patients should increase organically. In time, this should reduce the cost and resourcing impact on medical providers with fewer patients coming in for appointments.
Patients’ resistance to change
And finally, that brings us to a challenge only experienced in countries where patients need to pay for treatment. Payers are still unwilling to pay for telemedicine services as much as they would for an in-person treatment. Despite the convenience and cost savings - for the patient - many don't see telehealth appointments as having the same value as visiting a doctor. Either through smart advertising - demonstrating value more effectively to patients - or new payment solutions and pricing - this is the final challenge that healthcare providers need to overcome for successful telehealth software rollouts.
Telemedicine technology is the way forward for bridging the physical distance between patients and healthcare specialists around the world. Digital telehealth solutions improve medical communication, reduce costs for patients and doctors, making it possible for doctors to serve more patients with the same amount of time and resourcing. Providing more effective healthcare for everyone.
About author: Dariya Lopukhina is a technology enthusiast and writer working for Anadea, where we leverage our 18+ years experience in IT to harness innovative technologies like telemedicine and provide expert software development services for healthcare companies and startups.