Let’s face it – as far as innovations go, telemedicine isn’t exactly the blue-eyed boy of the disruptive start-up culture that has taken the modern world by storm.
Before the world had heard of Covid-19, the industry had enjoyed adoption in only a handful of regions & countries. As per reports compiled within the industry itself, as many as 82% of the people surveyed in the US did not avail the services.
An article published in the Wall Street Journal found that researchers who posed as patients across 16 different telemedicine apps reported misdiagnosis of symptoms. Furthermore, doctors registered with said apps often did not possess the license to operate in the regions where the apps were being used.
All that changed in December of 2019 when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out on a global scale. Scampering to respond commensurately to a crisis that was rapidly getting out of hand, medical practitioners the world over reached out for any & all help that they could get.
The Virus Caught Our Healthcare Systems Off-Guard
One common feature unique to almost all public health systems, especially across developed countries, is that they tend to focus on personalized care. In the wake of a pandemic like Covid-19, health systems had to radically shift the way to operate & in a matter of days.
As with any epidemic, hospitals have to brace themselves for the sheer number of patients that are admitted within a very short period. Even the most developed healthcare systems in the world often find themselves ill-prepared for such a scenario.
While every member of the society is busy practicing safe or social distancing to protect themselves & their loved ones, the one group of individuals deprived of that luxury are the frontline doctors, nurses & other attending medical staff.
We cannot afford to have them as our unsung heroes. If we are to stand any chance of triumphing over this virus, they will lead the charge. Yet, tens of thousands around the world continue to fall ill from the Coronavirus, the result of lack of proper protection & precaution by our foot soldiers within the eye of the storm.
Telemedicine To The Rescue
Thanks to the implementation of social distancing at a global level, vast sections of the population across countries & continents have now been relegated to the confines of their homes. Unless you have a confirmed or advanced stage of the Coronavirus or any other serious medical condition, trying to seek direct medical assistance at a time when healthcare systems are already severely stressed could tip them beyond the breaking point.
Enter telemedicine. Both the WHO & the CDC have already issued directives encouraging the use of telemedicine to remotely monitor patients. This will help to stem the spread of the disease.
Taking a cue from the aforementioned institutions, the American Medical Association (AMA) & the Academy of Family Physicians have also issued similar guidelines. The US government has followed suit.
In accordance with the changing times, telemedicine companies are pivoting to go above & beyond in this hour of need. For example, Everlywell & PlushCare are developing at-home Covid-19 testing kits.
Others such as HeyDoctor & Doctor on Demand are offering Covid-19 risk assessments for free. Telemedicine is an indispensable ally to healthcare systems trying to flatten the curve around the world. By facilitating diagnosis & consultation during social distancing, they serve the vital purpose of reducing the contagious disease from spreading.
Challenges To Universal Adoption
The explosion in the use of telemedicine services due to Coronavirus is testing the limits of the industry’s infrastructure & its ability to handle the pressure. As per a survey done by J.D. Power, before the pandemic struck, around 10 percent of the US population used telemedicine services. Today, PlushCare reports a staggering 70% increase in its appointments.
Amwell, another telemedicine service provider, reported a 158% increase in its app usage since January in the US alone. Needless to say, this will push the industry & its resources in an unprecedented fashion.
Furthermore, this large-scale adoption of telemedicine means more people who can diagnose themselves effectively & quickly. This, in turn, results in an influx of more patients to healthcare providers, thus burdening the system more.
The present limitations of the telemedicine industry notwithstanding, there is no denying the immense service this disruptive new vertical can provide to society. In the last decade alone, global healthcare crisis in the form of the ZIKA virus, Ebola, MERS & Covid-19 have ravaged our planet.
The future may very well bring us crises of similar, if not more severe, nature. One thing is abundantly clear – if we are to triumph over our present & future healthcare challenges that assume global proportions, we will not be able to do so without possessing a weapon like telemedicine in our arsenal.