The surge in use of telemedicine platforms and technologies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has been widely reported.
Although this peaked towards the beginning of the pandemic, engagement with telemedicine is still significantly greater than it was previously .
Satisfaction with telemedicine between patients and healthcare providers has been high. Future application is expected to remain higher than pre-COVID levels due to the convenience for both patients and HCPs.
Telemedicine is an umbrella term for all forms of digital care provision, both synchronous and asynchronous, which includes virtual care appointments, remote patient monitoring, and mobile Health.
Telehealth removes numerous barriers in access to healthcare, offering health systems the opportunity to be more equitable in the services provided, and the populations they serve.
With increasing use of telemedicine, these barriers could be further eroded, providing health systems and facilities with greater scope with which to focus on other priorities .
What are the benefits of increasing telemedicine use?
In addition to being a more environmentally friendly solution – by significantly reducing the need for travel as well as offering easier access and potentially lowering carbon emissions  – the adoption of telemedicine provides several advantages:
The flexibility of Virtual care appointments makes attendance simpler for patients, especially those who are working, have caring responsibilities, or struggle with mobility. Furthermore, it can remove geographical and financial barriers faced by those who live in rural or underserved areas .
Virtual care appointments provide an alternative solution that doesn’t further disadvantage already vulnerable populations.
Virtual care appointments are good for expanding access to specialists to all patients with an internet connection, rather than those just living in well served urban centres.
The implementation of Remote patient monitoring can help providers track trends and identify problems earlier, and switch to a proactive – rather than reactive – standard of care .
Because telemedicine can result in more proactive patient care, it is a good tool for reducing the demand on healthcare services, especially high-cost urgent or hospital services .
Virtual care appointments are also cheaper and less time consuming than in-person appointments, allowing providers to see more patients at less expense .
What are the concerns surrounding increasing reliance on telemedicine?
While themes such as reimbursement and regulation are important and well-known barriers to the implementation of telemedicine, here we discuss some of the issues that could arise as digital care provision becomes more common.
Despite being considered an important solution to healthcare barriers, studies in the US have shown that it is still white, affluent, English-speaking, urban patients who are more likely to utilise telemedicine .
Good broadband connections, a lack of trust based on historical and existing discrimination, and an inability to afford the technology or infrastructure required to use telemedicine, are all barriers to those exact patient groups who are meant to benefit from greater access .
As the use of telemedicine increases, some healthcare facilities are closing, temporarily or even permanently, further reducing access to healthcare for some patients .
Remote patient monitoring, in particular, can collect enormous volumes of data. This can be duplicated too, with in-person checks, messages, or asynchronous data adding to an already overwhelming bank of information .
While enormously helpful, this can demand a lot of a clinician’s already limited time as well as pose as a liability if monitored patients have any issues .
Despite evidence to suggest it is unlikely to be a major problem, there are some concerns that by being so convenient, telemedicine could increasingly encourage patients to request services for trivial, or even non-medical, ailments .
Telemedicine has however been associated with greater over prescription of antibiotics than in-person care. Given the ever-present challenge of antimicrobial resistance, this is important to address as telemedicine becomes more popular .
Without seamless communication between the many different telemedicine channels that now exist, providers will not necessarily have access to complete patient histories. As such, decisions may end up being made about patient care with important information missing .
Telemedicine is becoming an increasingly saturated market with many different providers offering services and technologies for Virtual care appointments, wearables, mobile Health, and more. As acceptance of telemedicine continues to rise, more providers will continue to enter the market.
As such, the patient experience is significantly impacted by having to find and familiarise themselves with endless different applications and interfaces.
Although the digital front door is designed to be a way to address this problem, where all tools have developed their own digital front door, the problem persists. Streamlined collaborative approaches will become increasingly important if the use of telemedicine remains high.
Interested in conducting telemedicine market research or similar?
As one of the UK’s leading healthcare market research agencies, IDR Medical has over a decade of experience in conducting market research tailored to healthcare markets. We have conducted projects in over 30 countries to drive success of brands, products, and services of our clients.
If you are interested in conducting a telemedicine market research project or another healthcare market research study, do not hesitate to contact us. We would be delighted to offer an initial telephone discussion, or an online meeting to understand how we can assist you.
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