The recent coronavirus pandemic has us looking at health care in a different way. Gone are the days wherein queueing in a hospital with other patients is just an inconvenience. In some cases, it is a matter of life and death.
For this reason, there has been a lot of support on the side of telehealth. Many countries have made major pushes towards using this medium of health care, the results of which cannot be determined as of this time. Still, the fact that telehealth can be a viable alternative to the regular model of health care is something to be pondered upon.
Despite this, there are still several roadblocks for telehealth to cross in order to become fully mainstream. These are the things that we will be discussing in-depth in this article.
What’s Holding Us Back?
Telehealth is a remarkable new technology, although some iteration of it has already existed in the past decades. As with most new initiatives that threaten the old guard, there are certain factors that limit the paradigm shift from fully moving forward.
Lack of Clear Legislation
Especially in the United States, legislation and rulings about how telehealth is used can be a long and dire process. This is because of the differing policies at the local and national level. Due to this, laws may change depending on where you are operating from and where you are seeking health care.
This can be a very confusing situation for doctors and patients who want to utilize telehealth. Laws requiring insurance companies to reimburse for services acquired through telehealth may also vary from state to state.
As with almost anything remotely new, laws concerning telehealth will go through a lot of red tape and discussion among politicians as there is nothing in most existing laws that are similar to the grounds that are being covered.
The main problem is that lawmakers are unsure of how to regulate telehealth and how all stakeholders can be satisfied. Unless this issue can be resolved, a united front on how to handle and regulate telehealth can be difficult indeed.
Resistance of Stakeholders
Despite the many advantages that telehealth is capable of providing, there has been some resistance on the part of major stakeholders when it comes to fully implementing telehealth. These include:
- Insurance Companies
Patients, especially the elderly, maybe a bit intimidated by the new technology and would rather go through the inconveniences of waiting in clinics than embracing change. Doctors, on the other hand, fear that their service quality will be hampered due to the lack of physical contact with their patients.
Hospitals fear that telehealth will eat upon their potential revenue, while insurance companies are not fully accepting of telehealth as they foresee a larger number of claims due to the ease of scheduling for a consultation and getting treated online.
It is these apprehensions that hinder the growth of telehealth around the world. If the main users are not present to support it, then telehealth will definitely not take off.
Telehealth comprises of a system of software and hardware that work together to provide health care services and administrative tasks. This may require some powerful computers, expensive software, and a stable Internet connection.
However, there are challenges that prevent telehealth from being used to its full potential. Most of the time, the target areas are the ones where the Internet connection is not the best. This makes communication and transmission of data very tedious.
Hardware and software must also be compatible with each other. Otherwise, the data will be useless. There is also a lack of maturity in some technologies in certain fields, ad advances in them can range from a few months to several years into the future.
While telehealth technology has advanced greatly in the past decade, it is still far from perfect. These imperfections prevent telehealth from going full blast, although we have been getting by with whatever is currently existing albeit with a few inconveniences. The potential, however, as well as the challenges in getting there, are quite expansive as well.
Potential for Overuse
One of the purposes of telehealth is to cater to the needs of patients without access to traditional channels to health care. It is also a cost-effective measure as health expenses drop using telehealth. While this may be advantageous to patients, the resulting influx of patients requiring care may be too much for the health care system to accommodate.
The use of telehealth for even minor cases is a good thing, no questions asked, but issues will arise if these cases are all that health care workers would handle. As patient numbers surge, there is some worry that doctors would be overburdened and they would no longer be able to handle more serious cases or those that require immediate attention.
Just like old telephone systems being clogged, there will be a certain threshold wherein the health care system can no longer handle incoming cases, no matter how mild. Insurance companies may also balk with the high number of claims for even the most mundane of health concerns.
Potential for Misuse
Admittedly, measures to protect patients that utilize telehealth are still in its infancy. Issues about security and confidentiality are always present especially if using telehealth services in an uncontrolled environment.
Of course, there are also issues of malpractice as well as other forms of misuse, whether inadvertent or malicious in nature. As laws regulating telehealth in most territories are still within a certain grey area, litigation regarding these matters can be a bit problematic.
There are still a lot of barriers that hold back telehealth. While some countries have made some huge steps in creating guidelines and other initiatives to help the public accept telehealth as an alternative medium for health care, many are still having trouble accepting this as a new model.
In the future, many more challenges that hamper telehealth’s growth will arise. However, it would seem as if there is no stopping this technology from being part of the new normal worldwide, although it would be a bit slower than most would suspect.