What COVID-19 Teaches Us About Telemedicine

5 min read Eric Grossman on Mar 25, 2020
Header for article about how COVID-19 has changed telemedicine.

Telemedicine for Remote Healthcare

These days, as we reconfigure the patterns of daily life that we’re used to, one of our main tasks is to find creative ways to remain physically and mentally healthy, and to solve the new problems emerging before us. Restrictions on many facets of daily life have led us to alter how we approach things like work, childcare, exercise, and even religious practice. 

As we focus on ways to remain healthy, we’ve seen trends upward in healthcare-focused technology, indicating the profound role telemedicine will play in the coming months. This has been reflected in the larger world: medicare now helps cover virtual check-ins, and telemedicine services have seen a surge in demand, all for good reason. 

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine, or telehealth, lets patients and doctors communicate securely via text, voice, or video. Consulting with your doctor remotely is a simple, powerful concept that will have a concrete impact on how we stay informed, retain clarity, and find ways to address both new and routine health challenges.

Patient-doctor chat allows doctors to evaluate a patient’s symptoms remotely, and this brings a number of benefits: it reduces the burden of doctors for non-critical health issues, giving them more time for the severely ill. It allows patients to remain at home, limiting their exposure in places like waiting rooms, and lets hospitals reserve equipment for cases of need. 

Overall, telemedicine services are in-demand, and they are crucial. The benefits of telemedicine include enhancing access to healthcare resources, and relieving the burden on the physical facilities needed to test and treat cases. They ease the load on doctors and healthcare staff. For patients, services like patient-doctor chat offer clarity, continuity, and peace-of-mind.

But, the demand for these services has jumped almost overnight. Services large and small have seen surges in usage and demand, while healthcare providers without a telehealth offering now need to consider whether or not they’re able to build one.

While it’s too early to be conclusive, some trends have already become apparent in the way telemedicine is being used to combat Covid-19: 

Chat Features Go a Long Way

As daily life shifts to fit the measures in place to slow the pandemic, people are looking for comfort. Streaming media trades places with postponed cultural events, and exploring creative cuisine at home takes the place of dining out.

When it comes to telemedicine, more than with other experiences, services need to prioritize user comfort to establish trust and encourage usage. To help users feel comfortable, effective telemedicine apps are adopting things that users are familiar with from apps they use in their daily life. 

It’s the little things that matter: a responsive chat app, with a familiar-feeling UI, and that sends and delivers messages with no perceived delay. Presence tells patients when their doctor is online and available. Small pieces of feedback, like typing indicators and read receipts, help patients understand when their worries are being considered and addressed. 

 The response to the pandemic may be the first time Telehealth sees wide adoption in the United States. Because it’s new for many people, establishing trust is paramount, and comfort is one crucial pillar of trust. When patients feel comfortable, they’ll be more willing to use the service, which is step one in making telemedicine effective.

Regulatory Compliance Doesn’t Go Away

One crucial component of patient trust has, and will continue to be, data privacy and security. As check-ins move to digital communication methods, those services will transmit more sensitive information than before.

Even if patient-doctor chats don’t store PHI (protected health information), healthcare providers must remain HIPAA compliant, meaning that any telemedicine offering they use must, in turn, comply with regulations.  

Things are moving fast, but regulations like HIPAA aren’t going away. This presents an obstacle to any healthcare provider that’s considering spinning up their own virtual check-in service.

But, this is an area where existing HIPAA-compliant chat providers are seeing increased adoption and usage. With products that can either plug into an existing website directly, or greatly speed the time it takes to create a new service, these services solve a complex need off-the-shelf. They meet the needs of the moment, and offer providers, and patients, assurance that all data is kept safe. 


Hosted Services are Critical for Scale and Reliability

Healthcare providers are facing challenges of massive scale. So, it’s critical that any telemedicine solution designed for the moment can handle the sudden demand of tens of thousands of daily users. 

This is an acute challenge, especially those who may not have a solution already in place. These healthcare providers now need to decide whether to devote precious resources to spinning up an app, as well as the infrastructure to support it reliably at scale and under heavy load. Even those with a solution in place may face new challenges in reliability, as thousands of new users put strain on their system.

Hosted services with proven reliability will be a crucial partner in this effort. They can help balance this equation by providing the real-time backend to support the rapid rollout of secure, stable telemedicine applications.

And, they can provide specific solutions to help providers roll out things like HIPAA-compliant, secure chat to let patients and doctors communicate easily. 

Using a hosted service drastically eases the load on any organization that now finds itself in need of a rapid telemedicine solution. 


Real-time Alerts for Fast-Changing Realities

In major metropolitan areas, the state of restrictions, the availability of testing, and the locations of testing centers are all variables that change rapidly and, to some, unpredictably. On a large scale, as with each individual patient, one of the best things telemedicine services can do is keep users appraised of the situation, offering a sense of clarity and certainty. 

In addition to offering responsive, reliable chat services, telemedicine apps can offer features like real-time notifications, especially as testing kits and locations come online locally. Alerts can also keep users in the know about new guidance from hospitals, as well as authorities like the CDC and WHO. 

Because facts on the ground may change daily, these apps can also use notifications to disseminate clear, non-sensationalized information about local procedures being put in place. Some advice holds true globally, but local realities are nuanced. This may be doubly true when it comes to accessing care and facilities. Telemedicine services that implement alerts and notifications are becoming an antidote to uncertainty, and increase the effectiveness of the care they offer. 


Telemedicine is A Critical Solution

Watching the news unfold over the past few weeks and months, around the globe, has been scary. As we all do what we can to help one another, we should also keep an eye on the bigger-picture as it unfolds.

In short, the challenges facing governments, healthcare providers, and individuals are nuanced, broad, and complex. Yet, telemedicine and the technologies underpinning it have a crucial role to play. When patients initially seek care, need symptoms checked, or simply need to know what’s going on, telehealth services are coming into play to reach people where they’re at.

While, on their own, healthcare providers might struggle to address the technological hurdles of providing virtual care for an influx of patients, technology offers a solution.

Services and products that offer real-time messaging backends can drastically reduce the time and resources required to spin up, run, and maintain a Telehealth offering.  

While the road ahead is long, there is a growing list of tools and products that offer solutions to some of this pandemic’s challenging complexities.