OPINION: The future of telemedicine looks promising
A view of Banner University Medical Center on Dec. 20, 2015 in Tucson, Ariz.
In the past few weeks we have seen drastic changes in society, not only in terms of social distancing, excessive hand washing and online classes, but physicians have started transitioning to an online platform of seeing patients, sometimes called telemedicine.
In 2018, the telemedicine market was valued at just over $21 million, but by the end of 2024 that number is expected to nearly triple and reach about $60 million.
Telemedicine is different. The physician-patient relationship is unique and crucial to quality treatment. There's no doubt about it.
A study published by Health Affairs in 2016 noted that only about 15% of physicians "worked in practices that used telemedicine for a wide spectrum of patient interactions, including e-visits as well as diagnoses made by radiologists who used telemedicine to store and forward data."
For the people reading this who live walking or even a short driving distance from a hospital, telemedicine might seem ineffective and a waste of time. But, for those who live in rural areas, far from a hospital or a healthcare provider, telemedicine seems like the best thing since sliced bread.
You can see a physician about a medical issue without having to wait in the obnoxiously long waiting rooms while watching your favorite TV show in your pajamas? Sign me up.
According to the National Rural Health Association, "the patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas."
By no means should telemedicine completely replace in-person physician visits. That would be crazy. The relationship formed during an in-person physician visit would absolutely be more personal than one done remotely, but less personal treatment is way better than no treatment.
The 15% of physicians who worked in practices that used telemedicine in 2016 should absolutely be higher. A good number of people do not have easy access to physicians and that can be troubling for so many different reasons.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues are becoming more prominent and discussed more often. With the use of telemedicine, psychiatrists could very easily see patients through a remote platform.
The American Psychiatric Association writes that "the use of video-based telepsychiatry helps meet patients’ needs for convenient, affordable and readily-accessible mental health services. With a robust evidence base that shows telepsychiatry leading to improved outcomes and higher patient satisfaction ratings, policy makers, payers and providers are increasingly considering ways to implement and use telepsychiatry."
This only compounds the need for telemedicine since those in rural areas need medical care.
A study comparing remote physician visits versus in-person visits found that telemedicine reduced hospital admissions by 38% and readmissions by 31%. Obviously, surgeons would have immense difficulty trying to operate on a patient from miles away, but for the majority of non-surgical physicians, telemedicine is a more than viable option.
Who knows what our post-pandemic world has in store for us? But more telemedicine is something that every physician should consider for the sake of those with less access to treatment.
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