Telemedicine to the rescue

The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as government-mandated restrictions, have necessitated social distancing. To get over that hurdle, health service providers are utilizing services that connect doctors and patients remotely, called telemedicine or telehealth.

Telemedicine allows patients to receive health care without physically meeting a doctor. Through telemedicine, patients can discuss symptoms, learn treatment options, and even get prescriptions. Doctors can go as far as monitoring readings from medical devices.

Why telemedicine is not commonly practiced

Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic is to be credited for the acceleration of telemedicine use. But there is also another reason that the practice hasn’t been common until now. And that is government regulation.

Generally, telemedicine faces a lot of regulatory rules. Due to the nature of the services provided, a lot of measures have to be taken to ensure health and safety. Telemedicine also faces data and privacy regulations that may be unique to both the technological and health care industries.

In recent years, a lot of states and the federal government have taken measures to loosen regulations pertaining to telemedicine. Governments have expanded telemedicine services reimbursement, relaxed technology requirements, implemented novel approaches to licensing, and relaxed supervision laws related to non-physician providers. This has helped set up a good working environment for health providers to adopt telemedicine.

But more changes have come more recently, in the wake of the coronavirus,  as social distancing has made telemedicine much more viable. The federal government has, for example, waived some enforcement of federal law to do with protecting patient privacy by lifting key barriers that blocked the use of popular video messaging platforms like facetime over privacy concerns.

States have been primarily waiving Medicaid requirements, including allowing telehealth – even phone calls – to qualify as the establishment of a doctor-patient relationship. Some have also eased the rules to allow residents to access telemental health services from their home

What the coronavirus has shown

Telemedicine providers have seen a huge surge in demand for their services due to the need for social distancing. This of course reflects the unique situation that faces the global health care regime. But if it is possible to loosen regulations on suppliers so they can provide services to individuals remotely, why should that be allowed only during pandemic periods?

Telemedicine is a viable service, the coronavirus has shown that much. What is needed is for state and federal governments to ensure that some or all of these allowances for telemedicine stay permanent.

Additionally, more action should be taken to ensure that telemedicine providers are able to reach more patients by, for instance, nationalizing medical licensing. Telemedicine can definitely reduce the need for in-person visits for most people and greatly improve efficiency in the healthcare system, especially in areas that lack access to healthcare.

Regulation should not be the reason why health care providers fail to adopt or continue to use such services after the pandemic is over.