Dr Greg Gulbransen takes part in a telemedicine call with a patient while maintaining visits with both his regular patients and those confirmed to have the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at his pediatric practice in Oyster Bay, New York, U.S., April 13, 2020. Picture taken April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Telemedicine’s demand is seeing a boom amid coronavirus. Despite issues relating to privacy concerns and health care coverage, Teledoc, a virtual care provider, saw a 50% uptick in visits in March. As the industry sees an increasing demand, some doctors say they see the benefits beyond the adherence to social-distancing policies. 

A doctor in New Jersey was surprised when his previous outlook on telemedicine changed. Once thought of as impersonal, he saw patients at ease in their own homes, sometimes accompanied by their pet. 

Telemedicine can still be limited to individuals who do not have a steady internet connection or those with medicare or medicaid who only get temporary access to the service. Telemedicine practices that take place over platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts may also be susceptible to cybersecurity concerns. An investigation by the Washington Post found Zoom videos were exposed online without user consent in early April. Some included one-on-one therapy sessions with the users’ name and personal information displayed. 

Currently, telemedicine provides care to eligible patients, sometimes at lower costs. It limits exposure to illnesses, benefiting the patient and healthcare providers. While the budding industry still has issues, it has played an important role in healthcare access and will also remain a sector to be explored after COVID-19. 

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Telemedicine, Once a Hard Sell, Can’t Keep Up With DemandThe Wall Street Journal – April 1, 2020 The coronavirus pandemic is pushing the once-niche telemedicine industry into the mainstream, testing its ability to keep up with soaring demand and forcing innovation on the fly. Before the outbreak, telemedicine struggled to take hold, in part because of government regulation and a lack of interest from patients and big companies. Now, companies like Teladoc Health Inc. and Doctor on Demand Inc. are racing to add doctors and bandwidth, while big tech firms like Microsoft Corp. add services. Whether the flurry is a short-term response to the crisis, or a more lasting shift in health care is still unknown.

Doctors discover telehealth’s silver lining in the Covid-19 crisisSTAT – April 19, 2020 Centuries of doctor-patient relations have centered on in-person communication and physical examination. We have been conditioned to view that as the norm, causing us to see telehealth as disembodied and impersonal, making us reluctant to embrace it. Then came the Covid-19 ambush. With mandated social distancing policies in place to counter the rapid spread of a highly infective virus, health care providers have been forced into an overnight arranged marriage with telemedicine. For some of us, there is the potential for true love.

Coronavirus pandemic forces HHS to allow Apple FaceTime, Zoom, other apps for telehealth servicesFOX News – April 1, 2020 With the coronavirus pandemic upending everyday life, the Dept. of Health and Human Services has made the extraordinary announcement to allow video chat apps such as Apple’s FaceTime and Zoom for medical consultations. […] Using these programs brings privacy concerns and the issue they may not be “fully compliant” with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). However, the HHS added that providers should notify patients there are privacy risks with these apps, while noting “providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications.”

How will telehealth fare after COVID-19?The Hill – April 20, 2020 It helps overcome barriers like poor access to transportation, and some children feel more comfortable receiving care at home than they do in a provider’s office. Telehealth can be an important tool for other services as well, from primary care to gastroenterology. On the other hand, telehealth is not a panacea. It cannot replace face-to-face visits in many cases, even in behavioral health care. Some families have limited access to technology, and telehealth is not a solution for them – unless government, health care systems and others take the extra step to help give them access. There are challenges to the protection of personal health information that doesn’t exist offline.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Dr. Gaurang Palikh on Twitter, 4/16/20 – Just got paid $9.12 by one insurance company for an evisit. Just so you know what goes on behind the scenes. Let’s get serious about this if we want to truly expand access. #telehealth

Jeff Reifman on Twitter, 4/20/20 – .JoeBiden Health insurers are requiring medical doctors use video teleconferencing such as zoom telehealth but it’s not encrypting video and its not private, the HIPAA compliance standard is too weak #healthinsurance

Sarah C. DeSilvey on Twitter, 4/19/20 – I’ve seen many posts re “telehealth, not going back”- but I want to say this won’t be the case in deep rural America- a fraction of my patients have smartphones, only ~60% have cell service at their house, many have no phone service at all, and broadband is a dream

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