In the era of COVID-19 and the uncertainty over whether an in-office doctor’s visit is worth the risk, telemedicine seems like a great solution.
You can connect with a doctor or specialist right from your living room couch and even get a prescription sent to your local drugstore for pickup.
Yet telehealth isn’t without concerns. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons.
One of the biggest benefits of telemedicine is its convenience. It’s accessible to anyone with a smartphone or mobile device, allowing patients to seek care anywhere.
Not only is telemedicine easy for the patient, but it’s also an attractive solution for research sites to keep up with their patient’s follow-up. If there is an alternative to attending an office visit, patients are much more likely to continue to remain in follow-up for clinical studies if all they need is an internet connection and a few free minutes of time.
Disadvantages of Telemedicine
One of telemedicine’s drawbacks are concerns with data privacy.
With the use of software in conducting visits, IT personnel may now be exposed to protected health information. As of right now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights will not penalize providers for good faith use of telehealth during the pandemic. This means that for now, there may be HIPAA violations actively occurring without consequences. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has provided some guidance for the use of telehealth during COVID-19. Although the guidance does not elaborate on exactly what “good faith use” is, they have defined what constitutes bad faith.
Bad faith use is not covered under the Notification of Enforcement Discretion regarding COVID-19. Examples of bad faith use include identity theft, the sale of health data without permission, and the use of public-facing communication platforms such as TikTok or Facebook Live. Eventually, even noncompliance covered under good faith use will need to be addressed and compliance gaps closed in order to continue using telemedicine after COVID-19. And unfortunately, the more the telemedicine platform is used, the more attractive it will become for criminals.
Another caveat to add to the new challenge is the possibility for healthcare providers to provide services to patients outside their state licensure. With the use of telehealth platforms, a physician, psychologist, nurse, or social worker licensed in the state of Ohio could in theory meet with a patient in any state. Traditionally, healthcare workers would rarely work outside of the state in which they are licensed. Each state may or may not have different licensing board rules in which they must comply. A healthcare provider will need to comply with all rules for each state in which they provide service. There are existing services that assist physicians in obtaining multi-state licenses for the purposes of telemedicine, but the process can still be challenging.
The Future of Telemedicine
Telemedicine is likely to transform patient care, whether providers are prepared for it or not. There are still unanswered questions to consider, such as:
- Could a healthcare provider misdiagnose a patient that otherwise would have been diagnosed correctly if seen in person?
- Will patients be fully transparent about their symptoms if they are calling from a location where they lack privacy?
While many providers are embracing this new technology, they should consider the advantages and disadvantages of telemedicine, as well as the questions it raises.
What benefits do you see telemedicine bringing to your department or business? Please share your thoughts below.