Part 1 of our 2-part blog series, exploring the importance and relevance of telemedicine both now and for the future of healthcare.
To say COVID-19 has had a big impact on our lives is now a HUGE understatement and staying connected has never been so important. For many people, this year, connecting with family and friends rapidly moved to video chat platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc., and in business communities, well-established audio-visual conferencing, such as MS Teams or Skype for Business, has long been enabling growth into global markets, moving away from the more traditional in-person business meetings. Of course, we can’t replace the feeling of being together physically, but we have found ways to adapt, to see each other virtually, and we’re getting better at it all the time. Unfortunately, these cloud applications are not designed for the medical world, giving telehealth a back seat.
For the healthcare industry, the impact of COVID-19 has been truly exceptional. While healthcare facilities were having to restrict access and cut back on non-emergency visits, people still needed access to general practitioners (GPs) for any number of non-COVID-related issues, many that did not require a physical examination. As countries started going into lockdowns and imposing strict social distancing measures, the challenges to keep moving non-emergency patients through the healthcare system became even greater, which meant GPs also had to find a way to increase remote diagnoses and treatments through online doctor consultations i.e. telemedicine.
The Telemedicine Challenge
Telemedicine was created back as far back as the late 1960s, as a way for NASA to deliver healthcare. But widespread use of telemedicine would have to wait until technology caught up. Today, it is generally well-known that legitimate and credible telemedicine solutions have been available for at least five years, so why was the uptake so low pre-COVID? Some of the main reasons include:
- Legal: lack of recognition of telehealth by government health officials, both from a legal and financial standpoint.
- Financial: health insurance companies only processed reimbursements for physical appointments, not virtual; this in turn drove the patient’s preference for physical appointments.
- Security: lack of HIPAA or GDPR compliance with existing audio-visual technology; telemedicine software solutions need to ensure that personal health information is dealt with securely.
- Risk: when you consider that a patient’s health and well-being are at stake, you can appreciate why there was initial reluctance, on the part of GPs, to fully embrace telemedicine platforms if you didn’t need to.
Social distancing changed all that!
What COVID-19 Has Done for Telemedicine
In a positive way, COVID-19 inadvertently opened the gates for the need for telemedicine, and earlier this year the American Medical Association (AMA) finally released 2020 CPT® (current procedural terminology) codes for online doctor consultations i.e. virtual appointments. Being approved by the AMA, telemedicine got the legal stamp of approval that health insurance companies needed, and from a financial perspective, patients are no longer ‘out of pocket’ if they attend appointments virtually as they can now be reimbursed.
We are not so naïve to suggest physical consultations can be completely avoided, especially for urgent or obscure health conditions or where physical examination is necessary, but telemedicine is here to stay. However, adopting the right solution will offer tangible benefits compared to physical appointments, provided that the solution delivers on cloud data security and meets all regulatory compliances.
Demanding the Highest Standards in Telemedicine is Key
Despite claims, not all telemedicine software audio chat solutions can be considered equal. Insisting on certain features is paramount in achieving maximum benefits for both doctors and patients. The SourceFuse approach was to go beyond basic expectations and produce two unique solutions, helloMD.online, a ‘one-stop-shop’ audio-video application that provides end-to-end remote healthcare, integrated with SF Medic, for personalized telemedicine chat. What makes SourceFuse solutions distinct from others is providing best-in-class HIPAA compliance, which in today’s healthcare industry is non-negotiable, and 100% secure online video consultations, protecting personal health records and personally identifiable information.
Being built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) helps overcome telemedicine’s limitations related to internet access, high-bandwidth requirements, and technology costs. Working in partnership with AWS artificial intelligence and natural language processing, SF Medic incorporates AI-enabled real-time clinical decision support (CDSS) – a world’s first in telemedicine – assisting doctors with automated CDSS and better patient outcomes.
Not only that, SourceFuse’s open architecture allows seamless integration with centralized electronic patient records (EMR / EHR), allowing doctors to deliver more focused treatments online. For the patients, helloMD.online becomes a true game-changer since the application will track all appointments, both telemedicine and physical, providing everything they need for billing purposes. In addition, with future potential to integrate with e-pharmacy platforms, such as Amazon Pharmacy PillPack, will enable receipt, purchase, and delivery of prescribed medication in a single application.
We have to accept that the technology we use in our private lives, to stay connected online, is simply not up to the job in the telehealth environment; considerations around cloud data security and HIPAA compliance are essential. COVID may have accelerated the wide-spread and rapid uptake of telemedicine, but now that these solutions are being cemented into the way healthcare is delivered, in a way that benefits the doctors and the patients, telemedicine will be with us long into the future.
Part 2 in this blog series takes a deeper dive into telemedicine benefits from both a doctor’s and a patient’s perspective.