The evolution of telehealth and telemedicine has made its mark over the last decades, but not without difficulties. The coronavirus pandemic, on its end, has not only grown the need for such technology, but also highlighted even further the issues surrounding its potential for growth and expansion in the healthcare industry.
The terms telehealth and telemedicine, although both widely used, do not have the same meaning or significance. In fact, telehealth is a broader term that refers more to the use of information technology and telecommunications for diagnoses, consultations, interventions and sharing of information from a distance. On the other hand, telemedicine, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), can be defined as:
“A service that seeks to improve a patient’s health by permitting two-way, real-time interactive communication between the patient and the physician at a distant site.” – CMS
Over the years, despite technological improvements, telemedicine and its use has been met with regulation and reimbursement issues that have hindered its complete implementation into hospitals and clinics across the country. With the onset of COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020, the lack of telemedicine use, especially in rural areas where broadband access is limited, greatly affected many populations and the availability of quality care.
Payment structures and heavy regulatory laws have also negatively contributed to the widespread use of telemedicine in the United States. According to The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are six key aspects to a person’s right to health:
- Good Quality
Each state has its own laws and regulations that govern five of the six key aspects, all of which are individually managed by state. Acceptability is the only one that is transient across all states, with telemedicine being deemed an acceptable alternative to in-office visits by Medicaid.
On top of this, many states have different regulatory laws that cover various aspects of telemedicine, including payment, licensure, online prescribing, coverage, and security. Even so, the novel coronavirus has made great strides in breaking down many barriers for both providers and patients when it comes to virtual care.