In recent years, healthcare reforms and federal legislation has pushed forward the spread of telemedicine technology and other technological advancements in the medical industry. But what is telemedicine? Telemedicine is a method of providing medical care remotely, usually through video chat. Telemedicine offers a wide array of benefits for both patients and healthcare providers. Telemedicine technology was first introduced as a form of healthcare delivery in the late 1960’s due to the needs of NASA and the Nebraska Psychology Institute, according to a paper written by researchers from Saint Louis University and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Thanks to the advancements that have been made in communication technology and medical technology, it is possible to access a wide range of care options through telemedicine services. Patients and healthcare providers can now remotely conduct and participate in virtual primary care consultations, psychotherapy, physical therapy, and even some emergency medical services, all through their computer or smartphone.
In most cases, video conferencing is the main medium used in telemedicine. However, some healthcare providers choose to offer care through other methods such as email or phone messaging. Most people choose to access telemedicine through their usual primary care physician, but for those without a specific healthcare provider there are dedicated telemedicine apps. Telemedicine enables doctors to assess whether or not patients need treatment in person without the inconvenience of a physical visit which has been particularly useful throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With the ability to conduct appointments virtually, healthcare providers have been able to provide a wide variety of services to patients in a streamlined and efficient way that works around the busy schedules of both patients and doctors. Telehealth services expand care to more patients and make healthcare more accessible to patients with physical disabilities who may have a hard time getting around.
Although the concept of telemedicine technology has been around since the 1960’s, it didn’t gain real traction until 2010. Throughout the last fifty years, there have been many different barriers preventing the widespread use of telemedicine technology. Financial, regulatory, and technological challenges made it difficult to advance telehealth adoption initially but healthcare reforms that began in 2010 have made it easier to implement on a broader scale. With the vast expansion and improvement of broadband internet networks across the country, fast and reliable internet is more accessible than ever before, making telehealth services a viable alternative to in person doctors visits when appropriate. In more recent years, healthcare reforms and federal legislation has pushed forward the spread of telemedicine technology like EHR systems, electronic prescribing, and mobile health tools. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and the HITECH Act were two important pieces of legislation that greatly advanced telehealth implementation. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act led to the creation of Accountable Care Organizations, which aim to enhance care coordination among medical facilities, boost patient engagement, and promote teamwork among multiple providers serving the same patients. Telemedicine plays an important role in care coordination by making communication more efficient between various healthcare providers and patients.
In addition to legislation and technology advancements playing key roles in the increasing popularity of telemedicine, the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest driving forces behind this concept. The pandemic caused many places to lockdown for the early stages. Although healthcare facilities never shut down, they were overwhelmed with patients and many of them were limited on physical space as they attempted to enforce social distancing regulations. The nature of the COVID-19 lockdowns pushed many healthcare providers to seek efficient and safe ways of seeing and treating patients without the risk of spreading the virus. This kickstarted the rise of telemedicine and telehealth services and made them more of a mainstream occurrence. Walmart just recently acquired the telehealth provider MeMD, a multi specialty telehealth provider, to reinforce its commitment to integrated, omnichannel health delivery that leverages data and technology to improve patient engagement, health equity, and outcomes. Other major companies such as CVS and Walgreens have begun providing telehealth services as they become more widespread. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, telehealth seems like its not going anywhere anytime soon.