As reported by The New York Times on telemedicine, digital medicine in the UK has rapidly scaled up over the past few years. The article shares how before the pandemic, only 1% of approximately 340 million annual visits to primary care doctors and nurses were video appointments. Telemedicine companies are now seeing more than 70% growth as general practitioners and specialists move on to these digital platforms. Even without seeing the patient physically, medical professionals can provide diagnosis and care — making it a convenient option to offer and receive healthcare for those with access to technology.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has ushered in the era of telemedicine. LHH’s article on post-COVID ways of working notes how shifting physical locations means exploring new formats for work and the use of digital tools. Businesses had to adopt various software and gadgets to streamline different processes, requiring more knowledge of technology and greater vigilance against cyber risks. The health sector also had to reconfigure its services to accommodate this remote setting. While these challenges exist, the opportunities to connect with their customers make a solid argument in favor of telemedicine. Listed below are some challenges that come with telemedicine and their solutions:
Poor quality relationships
Considering the remote setting, some telemedicine users had concerns about physician-patient relationships. A study on telemedicine by BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making notes how digital consultations lacked the human touch, with the absence of physical presence and psychological support making it more stressful for patients. To address these concerns, it has become crucial for healthcare providers to have good virtual bedside manners. One way to establish rapport is to look into their webcam for live consultations, facilitating a digital version of eye contact with the patient. Empathy can also go a long way in encouraging patients to be more honest. By going the extra mile in communication, telemedicine providers can maintain high patient satisfaction even through the digital format.
Subjective patient assessment
One feature that most people consider irreplaceable within in-person consultations is patient assessment. For most conditions, physical examination is a vital part of consultations, and telemedicine severely limits this process to a healthcare provider’s visual observation and a patient’s description. Even then, technological barriers like poor internet connectivity may hinder these options. To overcome these problems, clinicians should guide patients on the self-examination of their vitals through a clear set of instructions and also take into account social determinants of health. Aside from live virtual visits, patients with chronic conditions can benefit from remote patient monitoring (RPM). These technologies allow patients to collect health data outside traditional healthcare facilities, allowing physicians and patients to get a clearer picture of their health. As shared in our post called “The Patient-Centered Digital Transformation in Healthcare”, this knowledge allows patients to play a more active role in their own care, improving medical outcomes.
With the rapid growth of telemedicine, health providers often have to rely on insecure applications such as messaging platforms to conduct remote appointments. These often lead to potential data leaks that compromise patient and worker safety. A report on data privacy by TechRepublic notes that 32% of clinicians faced cybersecurity issues due to vulnerabilities in third-party technologies, and 30% reported that patient data had been compromised during telehealth sessions. Due to these problems, it’s all the more critical that clinicians participate in training for data-privacy measures when facilitating digital consultations. Health organizations need to establish digital applications and software meant for telemedicine, which cybersecurity professionals should monitor to ensure the safety of all.
Vulnerable populations are prone to technological knowledge and usage disparities, particularly people with disabilities. As reported in a Texas study on persons with disabilities (PWDs), the technological barriers have made it more difficult for PWDs to use telemedicine platforms properly. Among these issues are the user interface, such as the screen reader or captions, and bioperipherals which measure vital signs. In addition, PWDs with cognitive disabilities may also have trouble communicating or accessing platforms in the first place. Healthcare providers must optimize their healthcare platforms to be more accessible to PWDs, such as making user interface colors neutral with clear text that can be read aloud by AI. Physicians should also advocate for the government to enforce accessibility laws and consider telemedicine products in their healthcare plans.
Specially written for DigitalSalutem.com
By: Regina Jocelyn