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In 2015, a Harvard company review noted that personalized technology is poised to transform the doctor-patient relationship. Well, it seems the prophecy turns out to be true. The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly redefined telemedicine in the U.S. healthcare system.
A recent analysis by the non-profit organization FAIR Health shows that the number of medical services provided through telecare was about 8000% higher in April 2020 than in April 2019.
Telemedicine (also known as Telehealth), is the practice of providing remote medical care to patients by a medical professional without being physically present. Doctors and patients can communicate with each other in real time using computer screens or other multimedia resources.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the telemedicine market is expected to rise at a CAGR of 23.5% in 2026. Before we get into this, let’s take a look at the history of telemedicine in the US.
Transformations in Telemedicine, Then and Now
Telemedicine has a rich history dating back to the 1950s. The first adoption of telemedicine in the hospital was registered between Norfolk State Hospital and the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in the late 1950’s when closed-circuit television was used to provide psychiatric consultations. Since the 1950s, advanced information and telecommunication technologies have played a vital role in shaping the overall health care system.
In the present day and age, the effect of the global pandemic that emerged in central China around December 2019 has seriously strained healthcare systems, but telemedicine is seen as an essential tool in providing medical assistance to patients.
In 2020, fresh after her cancer surgery, Gail Rae-Garwood chose a video consultancy with her doctor in Washington DC to avoid a strenuous journey and potential exposure to the new coronavirus in medical settings. COVID-19 has been beneficial to telemedicine with the increasing demand for its services and technological advancements in recent times.
Let’s take a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving demand for telemedicine services.
US Telemedicine Reaches Out Helping Hands to Citizens Amid COVID-19 Crisis
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to opt for virtual consultancies to limit the effects of the disease. Private telecare company American Well further states that virtual patient traffic has witnessed an 11% increase since the first COVID-19 death reported in the US.
“We have witnessed an increase in the number of phone calls received by patients during the ongoing global pandemic.” says Amit Parekh, Chief Medical Officer of Grand Rounds Inc.
As has been reported by several companies, millions of Americans seek medical care for the first time by contacting a doctor online. The health systems, doctors and insurers believe it will enable people to follow social norms for distance, while reducing the impact of the virus and ensuring the protection of health workers.
Private technology players such as Amwell, Doctor On Demand and Teladoc are increasingly focusing on providing an online doctor to patients who find it difficult to get out of their homes when needed. In another pivotal development, American Well, a telemedicine company, raised a whopping $ 194 million in May 2020 to meet skyrocketing demand for telemedicine services.
The tremendous help provided by US companies shows that the burden on the healthcare system will diminish, while ensuring the convenience and quality of life for patients.
Government to ease regulatory barriers in the US
The catastrophic spread of the virus has lifted legal restrictions on telecare services.
In June 2020, U.S. authorities waived restrictions that hindered the acceptance of telemedicine for government-sponsored programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Congress sympathetically announced more than $200 million in rescue packages to help caregivers set up remote care.
Several US states have lifted legal restrictions, while insurance companies are working to waive out-of-pocket contributions for the consultation services.
The privacy rules that led to the restrictions in the adoption of technology, such as video conferencing, have been removed, allowing consumer-friendly services such as FaceTime and Skype to be used.
Today, a range of benefits of telemedicine have emerged as its application proves to be an effective tool for the pressured healthcare system. This potential is being realized by the government agencies and private companies as it provides medical providers and seekers alike with timely, robust and advanced tools for primary care, early diagnosis and long-term evaluation of medical conditions.
Will the world return to normal? Well, I think it may or may not be! The world may not return to the norm as it did before COVID-19, and neither may healthcare. However, the evolution of telemedicine has taken its course as the removal of regulations for telemedicine services will accelerate its potential to be a game-changer for patients and doctors in the near future.
Other notable developments in the US.
The pandemic situation has certainly brought the telemedicine services to the fore as it bridges the gap between doctors, patients and healthcare systems by establishing communication through virtual channels. In addition, government policymakers are focusing on providing optimal telewheat care to patients.
In March 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a national health statement that will allow healthcare providers to treat patients using telemedicine solutions. Similarly, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker issued orders to commercial insurers and health plans to cover telecare services.
Telemedicine is evolving rapidly as the platforms become increasingly secure, along with improved connectivity and infrastructure. Due to the current new coronavirus situation, the US government is advising doctors and patients to hire telemedicine services.
Dawn of the Telemedicine Age
Today, 76% of hospitals in the US maintain contact with patients through telecare, according to the American Hospital Association.
The COVID-19 situation has further fueled a vitalizing factor in terms of adoption of telemedicine services across the country. A recent Sykes research report estimates that nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to employ telemedicine services in the future.
As they say, there are two sides to the same coin, a vast majority of Americans still prefer to receive personalized medical care from the doctors rather than apply technologies remotely.
Telemedicine is set to reach unknown heights; however, it cannot completely replace a strong healthcare system that depends on competent healthcare providers and health systems. It may be an obvious case that the telemedicine services witness a bubble that could burst after COVID-19. However, the US with its adult tele-health service providers and overall cumulative experience is responding efficiently to the pandemic situation. The importance of telemedicine services has emerged and key stakeholders are embracing the technology that is expected to be an integral part of the healthcare system.
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