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In the decade prior to Covid-19’s appearance, telemedicine was already being described as a potential game-changer — a versatile type of care that could make lives easier, not least for older patients and those in rural areas. After the events of 2020 and 2021, however, it’s clear that telemedicine is not just a progression, but a necessity.
It reduces exposure
The role of infection control in a healthcare setting has never been more important. During the early weeks of the pandemic, confused, scared and sick patients filled waiting rooms around the world, unknowingly spreading a virus that would later force us into repeated lockdowns. Amplified damage spread to medical practices themselves, which continue to labor under reduced patient trust, according to the 2020 Journal of the American Medical Association.
Telemedicine facilitates contact-free consultations, which means doctors don’t need to place themselves or other people at risk. If a patient falls ill, a virtual appointment can provide advice, test appointments and a prescription, if needed.
Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Leverage Telemedicine Post-Covid-19
It helps vulnerable patients
The latest National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) figures indicate that 1.3% of Americans suffer from agoraphobia, and that thousands of these cases are so crippling that sufferers find that they can’t leave the house. In addition, there are millions of vulnerable seniors and disabled adults who don’t suffer from the condition but can’t leave the house for other reasons. These people need to see doctors just like everyone else. With telemedicine, the doors are now open, granting them access to healthcare professionals and providing potentially life-saving consultations, prescriptions and treatments.
It makes life easier for those in rural areas
The average city dweller lives 4.4 miles from the nearest doctor’s office, according to the results of a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, and that distance increases to 5.6 miles for those in the suburbs. In rural areas, Americans can expect an average trek of 10.5 miles, and for millions 20 miles and more. Add the inherent complexities of a busy life to that distance, never mind mobility problems or lack of access to cars or public transportation, and healthcare access becomes a serious problem. Telemedicine is already providing solutions for patients in such areas.
It promotes personalized treatment
Most iterations of telemedicine involve virtual consultations, but the technology can extend beyond video conferencing to include the application of more personalized care solutions, according to a 2020 Systematic Literature Review from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. For example, automatic prescription reminders can be given to patients with memory loss, ensuring they take the right amount of medication at the right time. Researchers are also looking into ways to deliver doses and medication combinations that take patients’ genetic and biological composition into consideration. We’re not quite at that level just yet, but are getting there, and by adapting treatments to meet unique needs, telemedicine is already making an impact on overall public health.
Related: How Virtual Care Can Close Healthcare Disparities
It’s more affordable
Telemedicine is typically a cheaper alternative to office visits, and so inherently more accessible for patients on a budget, even those with health insurance. A 2017 Health Affairs research article indicated that the average telemedicine session in the U.S. was was $79, as opposed to $146 for office visits and $1,734 for emergency room visits.
It’s more convenient
Last but not least, telemedicine is more convenient for healthcare professionals and patients alike. It eliminates packed waiting rooms and long waits; patients can get care in the comfort of their homes and venture to a physical location only when they need testing or other procedures that require face-to-face interaction. Healthcare providers, meanwhile, can provide diagnostic and consultation services on their own time. This means they don’t need to skip work because they are isolating due to an exposure risk, say, or because of transport issues.
As our population continues to climb and the threat of Covid variant infection remains, these many advantages become even more important. Machine learning, AI and improved interconnectivity are changing the way that we shop, socialize and learn, but most importantly, they are set to change the way that illnesses are diagnosed, monitored and treated.