An April 22 article published by Worth boldly declares that “telehealth will be the new normal after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.”The article, written by contributor Arick Wierson, makes a compelling case that the forced use of telemedicine via the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually lead to a new normal for primary care delivery.
Wierson correctly asserts that many of the technologies now making telemedicine possible have been around for some time. Video conferencing is but one example. Analog technologies for video conferencing were first developed as early as the 1920s. Modern digital technologies have been around since the 1980s. Even Skype is 17 years old.
If technology hasn’t been the issue, what has kept telemedicine from becoming the norm? Vista Staffing says there are four things to consider. All four are required if telemedicine is to become the future of medicine in the wake of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Both doctors and therapists are married to in-person visits because they know nothing else. Seeing patients face-to-face has been the standard practice since the dawn of modern medicine. As you can imagine, it is hard to change a mindset that has been in place for hundreds of years.
The first requirement is to change that mindset. Doctors and therapists have to be willing to dispense with face-to-face visits when these are not medically necessary. They have to be willing to share caseloads with locum tenens clinicians who might handle video chat visits in order to free up clinicians for medically necessary in-person visits.
Wierson quoted the head of a leading healthcare data analytics company who told him that “any physician who is being honest will tell you that 90 percent of primary care visits can be done remotely.” He further told Wierson that unnecessary face-to-face visits seek only to make patients feel better.
Whether or not that’s true, the telemedicine model relies on willing patients. If patients are happy to utilize telemedicine for primary care, there’s no reason to avoid it. If they are unwilling however, keeping them away from the office is going to be difficult.
Next up are the insurance companies. They are the ones who drive most major decisions in the healthcare arena. If insurance companies choose to get on board with telemedicine, you can bet it will move forward. If they resist, it could be a slow go.
Insurance companies seek to spend as little as possible in the long run. Insurance company executives may see the benefit of short-term savings through increased efficiency, but they may be skeptical of long-term outcomes. Convincing them that telemedicine will not add to their costs may turn out to be a tough sell.
The proverbial icing on the cake is government regulation. Ours is one of the most highly regulated healthcare systems in the world, with a mountain of overlap between federal and state regulations. If telemedicine is to reach its potential, some of the regulatory chains need to come off.
A good example is found in the restrictions advanced practice nurses still face in many states. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants armed with telemedicine technology could be doing a lot more to help during the COVID-19 pandemic if states would loosen up. Likewise once the pandemic has passed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on telemedicine. Will it lead to telemedicine being the future of primary care? Perhaps, but there are no guarantees. We need willing clinicians, willing patients, and cooperation from insurance companies and government regulators to make it work.