Telemedicine is more than a buzz word these days. With the global pandemic as an unexpected accelerant, telemedicine is transforming the nature of diagnosis and follow-up.
Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. Govt’s Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) was meticulously putting together a Web site devoted to expanding, describing, and trouble shooting telehealth services. The site at www.telehealth.hhs.gov features a two-pronged portal, one “For patients” and the other “For providers.”
For providers who have not delved deeply, or at all, the first tab is conveniently labeled “getting started” and features:
• What resources can help me integrate telehealth into my practice?
• What technology do I need to provide telehealth during COVID-19?
• How do I find the right telehealth vendor for my practice?
• Resources on telehealth vendors and providers
A second tab has “Policy changes during COVID-19” with the following links:
• HIPAA flexibility during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
• Telehealth waivers for patients enrolled in Medicare
• Flexibilities for Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Centers
• Cost-sharing flexibilities for patients in federal health care programs
The third tab has Planning your telehealth workflow with categories:
• Before you start seeing patients
A 2019 study (Bruyneel M. Telemedicine in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. Eur Respir Rev 2019; 28: 180093) detailed several reasons why telemedicine would continue to gain ascendancy, but with one key warning. “TM is going to change the patient-physician relationship and can simplify some aspects of diagnosis and care,” wrote Bruyneel. “However, TM carries an inherent risk of over reliance on technology and dehumanization of care.”
Yet another study [Lugo VM, Garmendia O, Suarez-Giro ́n M, Torres M, Va ́zquez-Polo FJ, Negr ́ın MA, et al. (2019) Comprehensive management of obstructive sleep apnea by telemedicine: Clinical improvement and cost-effectiveness of a Virtual Sleep Unit. A randomized controlled trial.] places telemedicine squarely within the realm of obstructive sleep apnea, with researchers declaring that broad application is still in the future.
“More time and further knowledge acquisition is still needed before we can implement telemedicine on a larger scale ,” researchers write. “We have learned that it is necessary, as far as possible, to simplify the processes, always trying to use the simplest and most appropriate tools to meet the patient’s needs, and even agreeing on preferred communication methods with the patients. In addition, a good coordination with companies, as well as an appropriate training for both patients and professionals, is recommended.”