The future of telemedicine: Is it here to stay?
| August 08, 2023
Telemedicine is a fundamental shift in the way we think about healthcare. When we imagine telemedicine, we typically consider its effect on the doctor-patient aspect. However, it affects more than just the doctor-patient connection; other sectors that enable telemedicine also have been irreversibly changed. Internet technology, including innovative apps, and policies support this medical model and foster new telemedicine trends.
Three sectors in particular continue to adapt and grow in this age of patient-focused virtual reality.
Technology and Telemedicine
The effectiveness and growth of telemedicine relies on the advancement of technology. Tech continues to see significant evolution to support this new era of digital health, while pushing new telemedicine trends. Among some of these modernizations are:
- Improved software and programs developed to assist health care providers with tasks, such as exchanging sensitive medical information, conducting e-visits, making diagnosis, providing treatment, monitoring vitals, prescribing prescriptions and educating on disease prevention.
- Cloud-based technologies, which are more scalable, cost-effective and networked than in-house IT systems, allow much faster data transfers from medical devices to electronic health records.
- Internet security, cybersecurity and blockchain for better protection against patient data breaches. In fact, telehealth vendors reported a 117% increase in IP reputation security alerts in 2020.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) tools used for improving data quality, as well as organizing, screening and analyzing personal health data.
- AI even helps clinicians triage patients, diagnose their conditions and plan optimal treatments. Forbes cited a "Clinicians of the Future" report  of clinicians think they'll use artificial intelligence as the basis for clinical decisions within 10 years.
- Mobile medical applications that monitor patients remotely, transmitting data captured by the mobile devices to a cloud-based platform for physician review.
The Impacts of Regulations on Telemedicine
Before the pandemic, major regulation barriers prevented many from embracing digital health alternatives. With the mass shift and adoption of telehealth, providers must comply with multiple federal and state rules.
As of 2023, 43 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted parity laws, which generally require health insurers to cover services provided through telehealth in the same way they would for in-person consultations .
Federal and state telemedicine policies can affect any of these segments:
- Coverage and payment;
- Cost and reimbursement policies;
- Health professional licensure;
- Credentialing and privileging;
- Online prescribing, including for controlled substances;
- Medical malpractice and professional liability insurance;
- Privacy and security; and
- Gaps in rural broadband.
As digital health practices evolve, so will the need for regulation.
Health Care Delivery
Telemedicine trends have revolutionized health care delivery. Unlike traditional health care practices, it incorporates numerous digital components. In response to the pandemic, patient delivery and payment models required altering and the industry shifted from offering fee-for-service to operating via a value-based care delivery system .
The National Academy of Medicine defines value-based care as "safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centered." Later, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement transformed this into the Triple Aim, a framework for action that includes improved patient outcomes, increased patient satisfaction and lower costs.
To be successful in new payment models, such as bundling, accountable care organizations and new physician payment, digital health must feature flexibility, particularly as part of care management programs.
Some examples of digital health technologies that contribute to value-based care are:
- Remote Patient Monitoring via devices that collect and transfer personal health and medical data – such as vital signs and biomarkers – to a provider for use in care and related support; and
- Mobile Medical Applications, virtual higher-level medical assistance services that allow patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their own homes.
Telemedicine must address numerous health care delivery needs. It is the driving force behind the shift from traditional to value-based care.
Telemedicine and the Future of Digital Health Care
The high-level examples provided in this article highlight how technology and public policy combine to transform how patients are treated. Though these sectors may overlap, the ongoing drive to make this hybrid system a part of our health care norm continues to stir change and advancements in the sectors that support it. Although the overall adoption and use of telemedicine varies, one thing is certain: telemedicine will remain a pivotal component of health care now and in the years to come. As we shift to a post-COVID reality, the lessons learned during the pandemic can help boost efficiency.
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