There is no doubt that telemedicine can change healthcare provision for the better. By reducing wait times, optimizing patient schedules, driving medical costs down and providing greater access to care, telemedicine could easily solve many of the pain points currently felt by all stakeholders in the healthcare system, be it patient, provider or payer.
Despite these convincing arguments, adoption has so far been relatively limited. One reason for it is a lack of awareness: many patients simply do not know that their provider or insurance offers them the possibility to consult with a doctor remotely.
Most of us don’t think about the way we consume healthcare services until we are in a situation where we (often urgently) need it, causing us to turn to what is known and familiar – generally visiting our GP or other specialist in a traditional brick-and-mortar clinic. No doubt that the COVID-19 crisis is helping to create greater awareness for telemedicine solutions in the mass market. But the battle is not won yet and providers as well as insurers will need to invest time and effort into getting the message across.
For other people, it is not so much a lack of awareness rather than fear or lack of trust in telemedicine itself that keeps them from making the switch. But these fears can easily be addressed and overcome when patients are in possession of the facts.
“I don’t understand how to use it”
Yes, telemedicine requires the use of a digital platform. At one time, this may have involved confusing design, multiple logins, and complicated processes.
Today, almost every telemedicine platform is designed in a patient-centric way, putting the end user’s experience above everything else. They are easy to use, intuitive, and require little more than a decent internet connection. They definitely do not necessitate the user to be tech-savvy in any way.
“What happens with my data?”
One of the common concerns many users have about using any kind of digital health tool centers around data privacy. People are concerned about safeguarding their medical and payment information.
Clearly, adequate privacy protections for underlying telehealth data and systems are key to foster trust in the use of telehealth solutions. Governments have responded to this need by issuing guidelines aiming to regulate how personal data can be processed. These regulations, such as the GDPR, ISO or HIPAA, are creating a unifying framework for the way data (especially of the sensitive type, e.g. medical data) is handled by the bodies that collect it. This goes a long way into solving the trust issue keenly felt by many users today.
“The doctor won’t be able to diagnose me properly” Back in 2015, a study showed that 75% of patients wouldn’t trust a diagnosis made remotely, or would trust it less than one made during an in-office visit. But numerous studies have shown that telemedicine is a valuable way of treating patients.
For instance, there is no dispute that many chronic diseases can be effectively managed with telehealth. Similarly, many non-chronic conditions can be easily diagnosed & monitored via video consultation. Telemedicine can ensure easy and fast access to a physician – a huge advantage for patients living in remote areas or simply wishing to speak to a medical professional urgently.
“How much does it cost?”
Although video consults tend to be significantly cheaper than in-office ones, there is a lot of ambiguity about insurance coverage, with telemedicine often involving an out of pocket payment. Concerns about reimbursement are justified – but options to get coverage for telemedicine are steadily improving in various countries. The aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, which saw governments pushing their citizens to use telemedicine services, will probably see a further easing of regulations at the national level and increasing coverage by private insurers.
Most of the common fears patients have about telemedicine can be overcome by simply trying it out. The coronavirus has benefited telemedicine by placing it front and center. It has forced many people to try it out for lack of an alternative – and see for themselves how convenient and efficient a solution it can be. I expect many will continue using it well after the pandemic ends.