Traditionally, telehealth and telemedicine were considered to be separate and, at times, opposing, components to remote clinical care. Digital health tools such as wearables, monitoring and technology platforms, were considered an entity unto themselves, whereas clinical telemedicine services, i.e. the provision of medical care from a trained professional to a patient, was considered its own service line. For years companies jockeyed for position within these two silos, taking great pains to ensure that their specific identity remained intact.
The fallacy of that notion and those distinct categorizations is obvious. Firstly, clinical services are insufficient without an adequate technology platform. You simply cannot provide telemedicine without a technology medium. Moreover, the more tools and information that are available to the provider, the better the clinical service that he or she can deliver. Conversely, digital health monitoring, while an important adjunct to clinical services, cannot be misconstrued as medical care. Providers are necessary to intervene, manage and prescribe.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic heralded an array of societal and medical dilemmas. From a telehealth perspective, the near complete shutdown of most cities and societies, made it impossible for most people to visit healthcare facilities or providers. The shutdown also brought nearly immediate validation of the necessity of remote clinical services. Now, both telehealth and telemedicine are viewed as vital care for patients. It is no longer sufficient to provide a technology modality for tracking health parameters without having clinical follow up, nor could clinicians ignore the necessity of top-tier communications tools and data aggregation modalities.
More importantly, however, all participants in the healthcare ecosystem, from providers to payers to patients, realized how the integration of telemedicine and telehealth can be utilized to improve patient care. Utilizing telehealth platforms could aggregate data, streamline workflows and improve efficiency. Tethering a top-tier platform that provides those tools with an outstanding clinical network to make it actionable could drive improved patient outcomes, engagement and satisfaction. Hence it became apparent that both telehealth and telemedicine are necessities and that companies should be providing the highest level of both.
Particularly in specialty telemedicine, an area of clinical service rife with inefficiencies and fee-for-service rather than outcomes, platforms must be constructed in easy-to-use manners, to ensure satisfaction from providers. At the same time, they must maintain sophisticated artificial intelligence, data processing, clinical workflows and algorithms to streamline clinical care.
The future of telemedicine lies in a synergy between the technological and the clinical. To the extent that payers, providers and patients can put together enter and solutions that encompass every component of medical care, the system will be healthier and more time and cost efficient. While the trend towards comprehensive promote care has been accelerated by the recent pandemic, there is still a lot of work to be done. In particular, the following key issues will determine how quickly the members of this ecosystem can implement and utilize these solutions.
- Reimbursement for services is a must in order to drive value-based care. The single most prominent roadblock to implementation of remote clinical services is the reimbursement structure. Improvements have been made during the pandemic and they must be maintained even after its resolution.
- Corporate practice of medicine rules must reflect the current realities on the ground. Crafted decades ago, rules must be adopted to today’s medical ecosystem.
- Physician licensure, registration and credentialing processes must be adapted for the 21st century. Clinical needs must be able to be filled nearly immediately and should not be encumbered by traditional bureaucratic processes.
Physicians should be encouraged to promote new ideas, workflows and systems-based approaches. The medical ecosystem should reward, not punish, those who think outside the box and try to improve the situation for all of those around them.