Since the beginning of the pandemic telemedicine has grown exponentially in popularity, but it has actually been around for quite some time. Telemedicine has long been used to reach patients in rural and remote communities, particularly those who have mobility issues, when traveling to receive care is too difficult. Telehealth has also long been used for staff meetings and training and more in cases where health systems are spread out or branches are remote. But the differences between telehealth and telemedicine aren’t always apparent, and since these options are going to continue to be popular after the pandemic passes we need to parse out what is what.
In March of 2020, The Cleveland Clinic logged more than 60,000 telemedicine visits, which was more than 18 times their monthly average before the pandemic struck. As people were increasingly faced with office closures and the threat of contracting the virus if they did visit a doctor, telemedicine became a more attractive option. It also helped that HIPPA laws were temporarily suspended so that medical providers could meet patients using technology they were comfortable with and that health insurers largely opted to cover telemedicine visits, albeit temporarily.
These changes made it possible for patients to see their providers without risk, and it also opened up a whole new avenue to get people mental healthcare who didn’t have access before. At no time has access to mental healthcare been so needed, and most health insurers are also opting to pay for telehealth therapy options throughout the pandemic.
The idea of telehealth first came around in 1924, when Radio News Magazine’s front cover featured a doctor seeing patients over the television. The adoption has been slow, but now that technology is such a mainstay in our daily lives more people are comfortable with the idea. In fact, 60% of patients are interested in using telemedicine options.
As the popularity of telemedicine grows and as patients realize how easy this technology is to use, the next challenge is going to be getting hospitals and healthcare providers outfitted with the technology they need in order to be able to serve patients. Currently just 20% of doctors plan to implement telemedicine visits for their patients, and a third of them are worried about how to keep protected health information secure. Just 10% of hospitals have the technology they need to implement telemedicine visits on a large scale, and 36% of physicians are worried about the effect it will have on increasing medical errors.
Telemedicine is here to stay, and telehealth is likely going to grow as well. Telehealth encompasses the technologies used for telemedicine as well as staff, physician, and patient training, administrative meetings, and more. Telemedicine is the medical transaction between a patient and a healthcare provider.
These medical interactions are growing increasingly sophisticated. Rather than just being a video conference, telemedicine carts are being used with the help of nurses to help a doctor get actual patient vital signs and more, thus opening treatment options up for those who lack access to medical facilities in their communities.
Learn more about advances in telehealth and telemedicine from the infographic below.