Benefits of Telemedicine in the Pandemic Era

The Covid-19 has triggered an unprecedented disruption in the global telemedicine market that is expected to witness a growth of $396.76 billion in 2027 from $79.79 billion in 2020, says a Fortune Business Insights report.

The telemedicine ecosystem sees a flurry of developments in the form of new government regulations and the adoption of telecommunication technology that will support remote delivery of healthcare.

Remote medical advice and treatment during the extraordinary times of Covid-19 was, perhaps, the single most high point of telemedicine with its purpose redefined during one of the most significant health emergencies in the history of the world.

People scrambled to protect themselves and their loved ones from this invisible enemy, taking frantic efforts at drawing themselves inside a safety bubble. While many cobbled up homemade concoctions to treat medical problems, others reluctantly called up doctors and were pleasantly surprised to get free advice on the phone.

However, response to a medical emergency during this ‘canopied’ existence was unnerving amid the social distancing and quarantine norms. This was when virtual medical assistance acquired the status of essential services.

During the coronavirus peak, the World Health Organization urged governments to speed up the resumption of disrupted healthcare services, which it said would be an integral part of the pandemic response mechanism. For this, it upheld telemedicine to strengthen the hands of regular health systems and help optimize healthcare service delivery.

When Covid-19 struck, physical access to healthcare services came to a grinding halt. They repurposed healthcare workers, elective care lost priority, and they called off outpatient services. However, the world was on its feet, tapping its technological prowess to get around the crisis. One of them was leveraging the potential of telemedicine besides restoring damaged supply chains etc.

Telemedicine was enthusiastically embraced by self-isolated or quarantined patients living in far-flung locations, patients with mild symptoms, and by those who left the hospital after treatment and required follow-ups.

Under these extraordinary circumstances, telemedicine stepped in for conventional health systems. Frontline health workers, paramedics, and doctors with mild symptoms could continue to work with patients. They deployed retired clinicians to remote-advised patients who were severely affected by the disease.

Telemedicine also facilitated sharing of expertise across borders and online training for health workers. One of telemedicine’s essential benefits was the support that it could extend to address patients’ and health workers’ mental health issues.

Tele-consultations reduced the risk of exposure to the virus among healthcare workers and patients, especially those with vulnerable health conditions and their caregivers, and drastically cut transmission chances. During the lockdown, telemedicine appealed to those who could cut down the waiting time.

Tele-consultation for triage, initial patient assessment to prioritize medical treatment drastically cut frontline medical staff exposure to the virus.

A PubMed report says that New York, one of the worst-hit districts in the US, witnessed an 8,729 percent increase in video visit utilization during the pandemic compared to the same period last year.

A report in Medical Economics says in the US, patients’ adoption of telemedicine at the beginning of 2020 was up 33 percent over the previous year, saving over 100 minutes of a patient’s time.

In India, the government issued the long-awaited telemedicine guidelines during the crisis, which was fast-tracked by the pandemic.

This aimed to limit the number of patient visits to the hospital and reduce the risks posed by clinic/hospital visits.

We can say that the pandemic catapulted telemedicine into the spotlight and was eagerly adopted by the people due to the compulsions they found themselves in.

With the pandemic-inspired digital transformation taking the world by storm, there are sure signs that the use of telemedicine may extend well beyond the pandemic era. This especially when patients realize the convenience and time efficiency it can provide them.

Though the global telemedicine market is expected to flourish, the virtual healthcare delivery market faces essential limitations. Some of the reasons could be the reluctance to accept remote technology by patients and practitioners, expensive implementation costs, skepticism over safety and data privacy. An important factor that hinders the development is the unavailability of internet infrastructure in remote areas.

In contrast, in regions where infrastructure supporting mobile, web, and cloud technologies is available, the telemedicine segment is expected to expand.

North America is predicted to lead the global market as it has developed healthcare facilities in parallel to consumer awareness.

In the Asia Pacific region, India and China will witness growth in the telemedicine sector based on telecommunication innovations.

Covid slowed down the economy’s pace and life in general but inspired significant societal, administrative, and technological changes. Today, governments worldwide could be looking at securing the telemedicine industry to make it more acceptable and safe for patrons. Insurance companies could be open to telemedicine coverage with healthcare service providers trying to resolve challenges surrounding the logistics of offering telemedicine.

All these could help us accept telemedicine as an alternative model forced upon us by the COVID.

Telemedicine visits have increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic, says Frontier Group. Before the pandemic, 13,000 Medicare recipients received care through a telemedicine visit each week. That had grown to 1.7 million Medicare patients by the last week of April, it says.

Medicare data show that telemedicine was opted for by people cutting across the background, age, and gender.

According to McKinsey, nearly three-quarters of patients who have had a telemedicine visit said they were delighted. More than 75 percent of people surveyed said they were likely to use telemedicine in the future. Most providers view telemedicine favorably, and two-thirds say that they have grown more comfortable with virtual visits.

The segment expands into various specialties such as teleradiology, telecardiology, and telepsychiatry, especially behavioral health.

There is no doubt that telemedicine is here to stay, but policymakers will have to ensure the segment is safe from potential exploitation by providers and insurance companies.

To have a continued use after the pandemic, governments must support an infrastructure that is regulated and supervised.

It is said that startups will look to tap the segment, especially with the governments’ enthusiastic support.

As the world was dabbling in telemedicine service, the pandemic accelerated its progress. While the people and healthcare providers are increasingly accepting the virtual care model, the investors are still twiddling their thumb and waiting.

Perhaps, serious engagement with telemedicine must start with some promising segments such as psychiatry. Mental health services have been confined to geographic limitations and required long wait times. Additionally, it will also ensure privacy. Now, it’s up to governments to regulate and streamline telemedicine and win potential patrons’ confidence.

Make a list of telemedicine services available to you as staying indoors has been advised to reduce exposure to the COVID-19 virus. With a reliable and strong internet connection and a device to access it, you can benefit from your doctor’s service from anywhere, even remote rural areas. Your doctor can help you with most cases without you needing to visit the clinic in person. Please make use of it and stay safe in this pandemic.