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Social Distancing Brings Telemedicine into Focus

Our current global situation is highlighting the need for telemedicine.  Ever since the Internet has offered a platform to allow for video interactions, the healthcare industry has been looking to embrace it as a way to improve the patient experience.  As with any major change to an industry, it is difficult to incorporate new ideas, software, etc. such as telemedicine. The industry is a mix of local and federal rules, with disruption to traditional norms for healthcare professionals and patients occurring, and hospitals and caregivers who are looking to communicate with their patients with the right technology.  As a result, the adoption of telemedicine has moved extremely slowly. The quote “necessity is the mother of invention” is really what is driving the usage of telemedicine. President Trump provided a greater opportunity by recently waiving some federal guidelines for easier usage of telemedicine.  

This move by the President will give doctors and caregivers an easier way to engage with their patients via telemedicine.  But when you move forward with an approach, it is usually very hard to go back. This is especially true in the digital world since many patients will become comfortable with the conveniences and benefits that telemedicine provides. 

A patient and the provider having a digital engagement during the customer journey has always made sense.  If we look at the adoption of chat, Facetime and other digital engagement technologies in other parts of patient lives, it is not much of a change to see that patients are ready to engage online with their doctors through telemedicine.   

Telemedicine’s adoption has been impeded by a number of factors. Many of these are directly linked to the complexity of our healthcare system in the US. The mix of private and public insurers and the corresponding rules for Medicaid, Medicare and other government rules have often impeded its adoption.  This unprecedented social distancing opens up opportunities to use digital patient engagement today and even more options to incorporate telemedicine in more ways in the future.  

There are many use cases dependent upon the types of care that are being provided from physical therapy to mental health. If we focus just on the immediate benefits during this coronavirus social distancing, we can find some very clear and immediate benefits.  Multilingual capabilities are inherently accessible with telehealth, which means during this period it is easier to meet the patients not only where and when they need care but also communicate a lot more effectively. A key benefit is the reduced risk to front line healthcare workers. This ensures they are able to meet their expanding patient demand that will increase in the weeks and months to come. Combined with the need to reduce the risk of patients congregating in overpopulated healthcare waiting areas, telemedicine clearly has an important role in improving healthcare in our organizations today and into the future.  [1]

Once we move past this current challenge,  telemedicine will have a foothold in our healthcare approach.  There is a need for providers, payers, and patients to have multiple ways to meet and interact online in the future.


[1]  Trump boosts telehealth services in the fight against coronavirus.  CNN. Sat March 14, 2020, Brian Fung and Tami Luhby.