COVID-19 could lead to telemedicine expansion
One of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it could lead to a huge expansion of telemedicine in America. Since the pandemic began, more Americans than ever before are seeking alternatives to traditional in-person doctor appointments.
Fortunately, the development of telemedicine offers millions of Americans easy access to convenient, high-quality health care. This has led to a large increase in momentum from doctors and patients for continued use of telemedicine.
Telehealth is a useful tool that allows patients to seek care virtually, without having to visit a medical office in person. By utilizing technology that is practically ubiquitous, telehealth offers doctors the ability to remotely diagnose, treat, and monitor their patients.
Over the past year, many patients have abstained from in-person visits. For some, this is out of convenience. For others, it is out of fear of contracting COVID-19.
A recent study found that more than 40 percent of patients have delayed or avoided medical procedures and appointments out of fear of contracting COVID-19. The use of technology to increase access to advanced medicine is a no-brainer. And telehealth fills a desperate need in today's society as alternative to traditional in-office visits.
Legislators in Arizona are considering a bill that would permanently expand access to telemedicine, making it easier for patients, especially those in rural areas to receive quality health care.
Even high-level bureaucrats agree that telemedicine is beneficial and should be made widely available. Seema Verma, the former administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid noted, "I can't imagine going back," suggesting that putting the telemedicine genie back in the bottle would be a huge mistake.
Advances in technology are inevitable, and legislators must adapt policy that supports innovation in the health care marketplace. A 2017 report on the global telemedicine market estimates the telehealth market is poised to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 16.3 percent over the next decade, reaching approximately $78.3 billion by 2025, according to Accuray Research LLP.
Patients are more inclined to use telemedicine, not to mention that some patients prefer telemedicine over in-person visits. According to a 2016 survey, 80 percent of telehealth patients accessing care via a mobile app preferred telehealth service to in-person visits. For many elderly and rural Americans, telemedicine offers options to care they otherwise might not have.
Telemedicine is not a substitute for in-person care, but a complement. It allows patients the flexibility to seek care at times that are more convenient for them.
In rural America, there is a health care access crisis. More than 120 rural hospitals have closed over the past decade, leaving rural Americans more vulnerable than ever. Increased telehealth access will make a substantial impact for these patients. Moreover, telehealth is becoming more appealing to patients as they grow more accustomed to virtual meetings and such.
States throughout the country are looking at ways to modernize health care and continue to support efforts that make patient-centered care a priority. Arizona is on the forefront of technology advancement in pursuit of better care for patients, and it would be beneficial for the Legislature to remove regulatory barriers and expand health care access for the Grand Canyon State's most vulnerable residents.
Christina Herrin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the government relations manager at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think-tank headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Image: Agathe PADOVANI.