As our daily lives have become more and more engaged with digital forms of media and communication, healthcare has also expanded via digital platforms. However, when a patient is in need of medical attention, the most common method of examination remains physical visits to the doctor’s office. For those traveling from distant areas, with tight schedules, or physical disabilities, appointments which often only last a few minutes are simply not worth the time spent attending them. In attempt to counter these issues and make healthcare more accessible, several companies have launched a completely digital form of communication with physicians: Telehealth.
In general, Telehealth uses advanced technology to provide a secure platform in which doctors can show patients test results and other files over a digital screen during a live video call, allowing health matters to be discussed from the comfort of the patient’s home. This in turn greatly reduces the measures which need to be taken for a patient to attend multiple appointments, and allows for even more frequent communication. However, these new platforms have been greeted with a mixed bag of responses as far as efficiency and practicality are concerned.
A recent joint study between two telehealth systems from the United States and Israel cross examined the diagnoses and treatments of patients who received primary care from both their home country physician and digital care physician. Statistical analyses on the obtained data showed that the results and outcomes from the two different types of care were similar, and telehealth was deemed to be an accurate and reliable form of healthcare.
However, another recent study from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit public policy research organization, analyzed patients who used telehealth to speak with their doctor only for acute respiratory illnesses. The results showed that while telehealth did provide a lower upfront cost per appointment to the patients when compared to traditional copays and insurance policies, the actual cost for the patient increased by an average of 45 dollars. This conclusion was supported by the idea that the availability of the telehealth service led to more patients requesting telehealth appointments for even minor changes in the respiratory illness, which in the long run added up to higher costs for both the patient and provider.
While telehealth has been shown to be an accurate and easier alternative to communicate with a wider variety of healthcare providers, the cost benefits and proper usage of it remain unclear. Telehealth clearly provides a greater amount of accessibility and brings awareness to even the slightest medical issues, but platform developers must find a way to work directly with healthcare institutions and insurance companies to try and find a balance between benefits and efficiency. Regardless of its current status, the field of digital healthcare is still rapidly growing, and has shown the potential to one day become the next revolutionary change in medicine.