In most cases, telemedicine is a net benefit. It expands access to quality patient care, especially to regions and underserved populations that need it the most. It provides a way to cut down on healthcare spending and engage today’s connected patient. It has the potential to change the healthcare delivery model for the better.
However, telemedicine also has a few downsides — by nature of its virtual interaction, and because of societal and technological barriers that could change in the future. The good news is, with the growing popularity and widespread acceptance of telemedicine, we’re likely to see the cons of telemedicine resolve themselves. With new technological advancements and shifting policy that increasingly supports telemedicine, we’re continuously finding ways to improve telemedicine and make it a viable, even advantageous form of healthcare delivery for many medical scenarios.
Here’s a quick overview of the top pros and cons of telemedicine:
Pros of Telemedicine
- More convenient, accessible care for patients
More accessible, convenient healthcare for patients is the driving force behind the telemedicine field. Telemedicine was originally developed in the U.S. as a way to address care shortages, especially in remote rural areas. Now telemedicine is used around the world, whether it’s to provide basic healthcare in third-world countries or allow an elderly patient with mobility issues to see the doctor from home. Telemedicine has the power not only to break down typical geographical barriers to care access, but to make the entire healthcare delivery model more convenient to patients.
- Saves on Healthcare costs
The U.S. spends over $2.9 trillion on healthcare every year, more than any other developed nation. On top of that, an estimated $200 billion of those costs are avoidable, unnecessary spending. Telemedicine has the power to cut our healthcare spending by reducing problems like medication non-adherence and unnecessary ER visits, and making typical doctor visits more efficient.
- Extends access to consults from specialists
With telemedicine, a medical practice or hospital system can immediately expand access to niche medical specialists. This makes it easy for primary care doctors to consult medical specialists on a patient case, and for patients to see a needed specialist on a rare form of cancer, no matter their location. As another example, small hospitals without adequate radiology specialist on-staff can outsource evaluation of x-rays via telemedicine.
- Increasing patient engagement
Today’s patient lives in an increasingly connected world and expects a different kind of care experience. Telemedicine engages patients by allowing them to connect with their doctor more frequently, in a convenient way. That means more questions asked and answered, a stronger doctor-patient relationship, and patients who feel empowered to manage their care.
- Better quality patient care
Telemedicine makes it easier for providers to follow-up with patients and make sure everything is going well. Whether they’re using a more extensive remote patient monitoring system to watch the patient’s heart, or doing a videochat to answer medication questions after a hospital discharge – telemedicine leads to better care outcomes.
Cons of Telemedicine
- Requires technical training and equipment
Like most technology solutions, telemedicine platforms usually require some training and equipment purchases. How much is really dependent on the solution – a more extensive inpatient telemedicine platform that will be used between primary doctors and consulting specialist may require more training and the purchase of a telemedicine cart and various mobile health devices.
- Some telemedicine models may reduce care continuity.
Telemedicine companies that are consumer-facing offer the huge benefit of on-demand care for patients. A sick patient can simply login online and request a visit with one of the company’s doctors and get treatment. But this model, similar to the retail health movement, leads to a breakdown in care continuity. A random doctor who doesn’t know the patient, doesn’t know their whole medical history. The best approach to telemedicine? Providing tools to providers to easily connect with their ownpatients.
- May reduce in-person interactions with doctors
Some critics of telemedicine argue that online interactions are impersonal, and physical exams are often necessary to make a full diagnosis. If more patients are resorting to online interactions in place of in-person visits, what effects will that have?
In-person patient-doctor visits are clearly valuable and necessary in many circumstances. Telemedicine is best used to supplement these visits – to do simple check-ins with patients and make sure everything is going well. For minor acute conditions (like infections), an in-person visit with an established patient is often not needed. In those cases, telemedicine can save the patient, the doctor, and the healthcare system time and money.