Telemedicine has boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. By now (Q1-Q2 of 2021), the situation seems to be getting a little bit under control, and it’s hard to say that the world has adopted Telemedicine practices as well as it could’ve. Despite its numerous benefits – such as availability of specialized doctors regardless of distance, cost-reduction, and no waiting rooms – still there is negativity towards the wider adoption of Telehealth practices.
Let’s take a good look at the reasons why patients (and doctors) may dislike Telemedicine, and what can be done about it.
1 – It’s hard to set up
If your patients don’t understand how to use the provided Telemedicine service from the get-go, chances are they won’t be sticking around to learn. It’s always a decent practice to do your research and learn from your own patients what would be the comfortable framework for them to use. However, not always such a luxury is available.
This issue affects the elderly population more than the young generations. Overcoming the initial learning curve, however small, might be very tiresome, and push the elderly patients to stick with the in-person visits, despite the possible difficulty of doing that.
To avoid this from happening, it’s important to stick to practices of user-centric UI.
Do ample user testing of your Telemedicine platform before releasing it. If you’re using a third-party solution, test it yourself before bringing your patients on-board. That’s also relevant for your doctors – they should be comfortable using the Telemedicine solution as well.
Adopt user-centric best practices or better yet, consult with a UX expert during the initial stages of your Telehealth product development. The fewer steps it will take for the patient to find what they need, the better.
Offer guidance and support for your solution that can be accessed by commonly available means – such as email and phone. Helpful product articles will help to reduce the number of incoming queries.
Don’t forget that Telemedicine solutions with video-conferencing capabilities require a decent internet connection, and both your doctors and patients should ensure they have that available.
2 – Physical examination is hard to conduct
Indeed, it might be difficult to perform certain forms of physical examinations over video or phone. Telemedicine can be reliably used to assess certain kinds of pains, inflammations, rashes, and other visible conditions.
The doctor wouldn’t be able to have a good look at swollen glands, sore throats, and other conditions that either require certain tools or good lighting. That includes blood sugar and blood pressure, lung examinations, and others. The patients can measure blood sugar and blood pressure themselves, of course, but that means they need to have the necessary equipment available at home.
Thus, for some cases, a virtual appointment is a good start and can be used to determine if an in-person visit is necessary. In more minor cases, it would be enough altogether to get a diagnosis and plan for treatment.
3 – What about the EHR?
We’re witnessing a gradual shift from paper records to digital records, and that’s the trend that will likely continue to develop regardless of the Telemedicine adoption rate. It’s true for all kinds of data entry, after all – digital records are superior to paper in many different ways.
When it comes to the patient experience, it really depends on the Telemedicine solution in question. A good solution should be able to generate reports and integrate with the EHR systems – either directly or by providing a downloadable file.
This raises a certain problem of interoperability of such records – in the case when the patient switches from one Telehealth provider to another. At this point in time, it’s best to make sure your Telehealth solution is capable of providing a thorough, machine-readable report that can be exported or communicated directly to other systems.
4 – There are privacy concerns
Much like any IT solution that harbors user data, Telehealth has certain operational risks that include patient privacy. The fact we’re talking about health records is even more serious – this is the kind of data a patient should feel safe about.
Reputable Telehealth providers make sure to follow HIPAA’s security and privacy rules to provide the necessary level of data protection. That includes highly encrypted traffic between the solution and the patient – video traffic, files, and any other data that can be exchanged.
You should always expect an ability to express consent before entering a consultation with the doctor. This helps the patient to establish a degree of control over the session.
While the chance of losing your data or having it stolen by hackers is always there, with the advancement of data protection technology, it has become astronomically small. Paper records might get scanned or stolen just as well.
5 – There is no personal connection in the process
Alas, of all of the common dislikes for Telemedicine, this here is hard to overcome. Humans are social creatures, and we are defined by our communication styles and habits. Body language, visual contact, voice, even the setting contributes to establishing a human connection in a great way. Over the net, a good portion of this connection is lost, especially when the video connection is sketchy, the voice is somewhat distorted, and we step away from the video camera all the time.
This also concerns chatbots and other automation designed to gather patient information and provide service. These are the time-savers – cost-efficient, quick, and precise – but not human. A chatbot should never replace human interaction entirely, at least not in healthcare. Thus rises a curious nuance, almost to a degree of a paradox – as a healthcare provider, you would want to be able to receive more patients and help more people. At the same time, you wouldn’t want to alienate them in the process by having machines do most of the boring work for you. There are cases of masterfully-crafted automated help-services and onboarding processes, but these are far and between.
Therapy, psychology, pediatrics, and other fields of practice have doctors that are eager to establish this emotional link with their patients once again. In the case of automation, and the human connection, the best thing we can do so far is to make sure automation helps to gather common information, filter it, and prepare it for use by the doctor that will then take over.
6 – Insurance is tangled up
Indeed it is. All the good things have a price, and Telemedicine is no different. What kind of coverage and plan you might have as a patient depends greatly on your employer, insurance plan, state, and more. It might be nearly cost-free depending on your employee benefits. It can be billed just like an in-person appointment. There might be copays and deductibles.
In any case, your insurance is likely to cover a patient’s Telehealth appointment. The coverage may vary, however, and co-pay might be different compared to the in-person visit. It depends on the state you’re in, and it’s best to check in with your insurer and learn more about your plan and what it can cover before making an appointment. State laws change frequently, and it might be difficult to stay up-to-date without a consultation.
You might be inclined to learn about the convenience fee some doctors charge on top of the visit cost. These costs are not covered by insurance, so it’s best to learn about these beforehand.
7 – It’s hard to make sure you will get a good doctor
Most Telemedicine solutions offer to choose a doctor before making an appointment. You can even see the doctor’s provided information, such as their degrees, awards, and practice record. This helps to narrow down the specialist you want to see and make the right appointment.
But there are more underlying issues that may arise. When you have a consultation with a doctor as a patient, a “patient-physician relationship” is formed. When that happens, the doctor is liable for the treatment they provide. Malpractice is a real fear for many doctors out there, since this may quickly put the doctor’s career to an end. Thus, doctors either make absolutely sure the treatment plan they provide is necessary for the patient to get better, or request an eventual in-person visit if the situation really calls for that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing anymore, now that the pandemic is (hopefully) approaching its end.
Telehealth is a fantastic solution to many issues in our healthcare system. It’s beneficial to patients and doctors alike. Telehealth helps patients to receive quick and specialized care, save costs on travel and waiting room time. Doctors enjoy a wider patient base and opportunities to practice from home.
No system is without flaw, of course, and Telemedicine must continue to improve and define its role in Healthcare overall, to provide even more benefits to the general population.