Telemedicine can not only provide exposure-free medical access to millions of people incarcerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could also be the future of medicine. Even after the lockdown phase where everyone might find it necessary, it is able to provide cheap, 24-hour medical care to the elderly, people with other disabilities, remote or other long-term mobility-impaired patients and it is also backed by insurance
The unexpected shutdown that has been imposed on billions of people worldwide to fight the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a crisis in access to medical care. Millions struggle with disrupted routine medical care needs and postpone hospital visits for fear of exposing themselves to the highly contagious virus.
Despite the lockdown, it is a matter of hope that we are not completely cut off from each other. Despite the physical distance, people are in contact with each other through various interactive platforms and audio and video technology.
Today we have access to an entire virtual universe at your fingertips. We can work from home, order food, find the news we need, access the entertainment we're looking for, and much more. With the lock, we have explicitly discovered ways in which we can keep our distance and still work efficiently. We prayed, played, and mourned through our video interfaces. We have rewired our interactions with this world to avoid the difficult times ahead.
If we can do so much to keep our distance and still feel that we are not so isolated, have you noticed that medical care may also be available through telecommunication networks?
Well, it can be. Numerous medical facilities and clinics today offer telemedicine or virtual care options of various scales, connecting doctors to patients through sterile, contactless virtual environments.
What is telemedicine?Telemedicine refers to a wide spectrum of modern technologies and tactics used to remotely deliver virtual medical, health, and education services and functions using various interfaces such as synchronous and asynchronous video, audio, and mobile communication technology.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said in their advice on HIPAA compliance that physicians can use available non-public video interfaces that are used in good faith. to get in touch with their patients and to temporarily relax the overarching privacy protocols laid down in HIPAA regulations.
How does it work?
Telemedicine makes the process of meeting a doctor all the way to a virtual plane. There is no front office or physical infrastructure for patients to register their appointment. Instead, they book their appointment online and receive an email or text link to a video or audio call. There are three ways patients can meet their doctor-
- Synchronous or live video: In synchronous mode, there is a live, reciprocal interaction between the patient and the doctor using commonly used, popular audiovisual telecommunication technologies such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video or Skype.
- Asynchronous or save and forward: In asynchronous mode, patients and doctors do not meet live in real-time, but exchange recorded health information, such as X-rays, photos, video, digital prints and micro photos via secure electronic communication systems.
- Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM): In RPM, a person's personal health and medical data are collected in one location through electronic communication technologies and sent to a provider (sometimes through a data processing service), in another location to access a virtual caregiver.
In addition, the public can also use mobile phone networks to access medical care.
The doctors, who receive patient data through one of these means, use it to evaluate a patient's condition and perform an online triage. Depending on the condition of the patient, they can then recommend an e-prescription for medicines or refer the patient to an open medical facility where they can go for personal care.
Most telemedicine portals and software also have built-in payment modes to make the process truly seamless and digital.
Medical privacy and telemedicine
Medical care in the U.S. is governed by strict HIPAA regulations that protect patient privacy. Telemedicine naturally presents a number of challenges for the maintenance of these protocols. Several technologies used for virtual consultations do not comply with HIPAA.
To address this, the authorities have endorsed temporary regulatory leniency and allowed the use of more personalized communication technologies.
In addition to this, government agencies have also instructed providers to inform patients that the third-party applications used in the audio and video interfaces pose potential privacy risks and that they should attempt to enable all available encryption and privacy modes during the use of such applications.
The state directive also expressly prohibits the use of publicly directed video communication applications such as Facebook Live, Twitch, and TikTok.
Is telemedicine recognized by insurance companies?
Under the flexibility of regulations announced after the corona outbreak, insurance companies have extended coverage to include codes of treatment for telemedicine in both medical and dental care services. All that needs to be done is to add the special codes designating the telemedicine or teledentine service to the existing treatment code protocol when making a claim.
Is telemedicine the future of medicine?
Telemedicine is not something completely new. Different healthcare providers have used telemedicine in different formats to help elderly, immobile, distant, or differently handicapped patients. Even telematics are popular in different parts of the United States. In several places, follow-up of telematics is also simplified, and there are doctors and dentists who visit patients at their homes to save them the travel costs of going to a medical facility.
With the urgent situation brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak, millions of people will come to realize the convenience of telemedicine. With telemedicine, people, even during normal times, can save travel and avoid skipping office hours to meet doctors. This will also be very useful for the less mobile patients or those recovering from invasive surgery and who have long periods of rest and recovery. In addition, it is safer than visiting a hospital or dental office every day, since safe home environments reduce the chance of accidental exposure to bacteria.
With the potential to expand exposure-free care to remote locations, reduce the crowds in medical facilities, reduce access to quality care nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reduce travel and business costs. telematics really becomes more important in the post COVID era.