Although the boom that lived during the height of the pandemic has passed, telemedicine is here to stay. And not as an imitation of face-to-face, but as an alternative to improve access and quality of care.
There are many who think that telemedicine is an invention that emerged with covid-19. And while it is true that the pandemic marked a milestone, it had already been growing strongly. Between 2010 and 2019, scientific publications on the subject increased from one thousand to four thousand per year. And if we talk about the period 2020–2021, the figures skyrocketed: they reached eight thousand per year.
From the first years, the levels of satisfaction in telemedicine consultations were similar to face-to-face consultations, especially in the care of chronic patients, such as diabetics, hypertensives and heart failure. However, telemedicine was definitively installed in 2020, with the covid-19 pandemic, when face-to-face care in specialties other than respiratory decreased.
In a context of concern about contagion, mobility restrictions and limited capacity, virtuality gained ground, especially in the private sector, making clear its tremendous potential and prospects. One good example is Teladoc (NYSE: TDOC), which has changed the way people access healthcare with its varied services, from in-clinic to in-home care. Whether you want mild medical care or need help with acute or chronic health issues. Teladoc provides services ranging from dermatology, pediatrics, and even mental health. It also facilitates and arranges lab tests and sends prescriptions to the nearest pharmacy.
Currently, telemedicine coexists with face-to-face care, and health providers should vigorously strive to take advantage of its full potential, even in the face of the reduction in covid-19 cases. Managed effectively, telemedicine supports the follow-up of the doctor-patient exercise without needing a face-to-face meeting. Already in 2009, 20% of patients with heart failure treated by telemedicine reduced their hospitalizations and visits to the emergency service for this reason.
When telemedicine is the core of care delivery, a frequency of care can be established with similar and sometimes even better than with face-to-face visits. In addition, an improvement in the general health of patients implies fewer medical complications and surgical interventions.
Despite tremendous progress, some limitations remain. The main one occurs in those specialties with a high dependence on physical examination and the use of instruments, such as ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology. Although these limitations are becoming less and less, companies such as Cerner Corp. (NASDAQ: CERN) have developed software and hardware that have allowed the industry to digitally transform.
However, in specialties such as psychiatry, dermatology, cardiology and diabetes, among others, research has shown that their results are not inferior to face-to-face consultations. Another barrier is internet access. Even in developed countries, access to the Internet and electronic devices to connect does not exceed 80% penetration, which limits entry to a significant part of the population. To this must be added the difficulties with the connection (especially when using video) or with the providers.
For some, the bond between doctor and patient could be weakened by the practice of telemedicine. However, this can be overcome by training and empowering health staff in oral communication, active listening, eye contact, verbal explanations and counselling. From this, it follows that the adaptation to telemedicine services has to involve the entire organization. It is up to health organizations and staff to offer a virtual care experience that feels more human in order to increase current satisfaction levels regarding teleconsultations.
Telemedicine can decrease post-pandemic, but in no case will it disappear since it is an excellent alternative not only to allow remote care for those people who live in the most remote places but also for those who need help without the need to travel. You can also look outside our borders. With telemedicine, a much broader market opens up since there are no major impediments to enabling the service to other countries. Another strong point of telemedicine is its link with digital natives, who are much more receptive to this type of care.
Information technologies applied to the clinical practice of medicine represent one of the great strategic challenges of health. What a few decades ago appeared as fiction today is a reality that has benefited many users. Telemedicine has become a very useful tool, showing interesting advances and proposing alternatives to overcome historical problems, such as waiting lists. Telemedicine will improve the quality of health services through more timely care, with many of the diagnoses done from home and the results sent to them instantly, allowing doctors to provide treatment more quickly; the future indeed looks promising.