The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will certainly change healthcare. Will it be for the preparedness of the global healthcare system, or the development of test kits or vaccine, there will be a before and after COVID-19. Telecommunication technologies and telework never went through on such a global scale test. If “Necessity is the mother of innovation,” fear is the soil for long-lasting changes. In History, Pandemics have been one of the main drivers of change both for society and for technology.

In his report on getting the workplace ready for COVID-19, the World Health Organization suggested to “Consider whether a face-to-face meeting or event is needed. Could it be replaced by a teleconference or online event?”. According to the Becker Friedman Institute, 37 percent of U.S. jobs could be performed from home for a total financial savings of $700 billion per year. Workplaces are getting used to working for home, but what about more intimate relationships such as the one between a doctor and his patient? Do we really need an in-person consultation? Can Telehealth finally position itself as a way to durably shift healthcare paradigms?

Telehealth as a powerful tool for public health emergencies

During the last decade, Telehealth has steadily progressed to become a powerful tool for disaster and public health emergency management (Lurie N, Carr BG.) According to an article recently published in NEJM by Hollander & Carr, “Forward Triage” and Electronic intensive care unit (e-ICU) monitoring system offer nurses and physicians the ability to monitor patients in real-time remotely and safely.

For the Center for Disease Control and the Harvard Medical School, virtual healthcare technologies can significantly contribute to flattening the curve and reducing the number of COVID-19 cases. In most countries, the barriers to the wide adoption of telemedicine and telehealth services did not lie in communication technologies.

Lifting the regulations to protect the populations

The real bottlenecks lie in the regulations associated with the use of virtual care. In the United States, only 20% of states offer payment parity between Telehealth and in-person services. Medicare and Medicaid Services recently modified their payment policies in response to COVID-19.

The American College of Physicians noted that most of the regulatory restrictions associated with Telehealth were lifted. Medicare also allowed waiving cost-sharing for all telehealth services.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 10% of the patients in the U.S. used Telemedicine, according to a survey conducted by J.D. Power in July 2019. Amidst city-wide social distancing measures, telemedicine companies such as Amwell reported an increase in the usage of the service by 158% nationwide and by 650% in Washington state. At Mount Sinai Hospital, the number of video visits per day went from 20 mid-March to 2,000 in a matter of just ten days,

What is currently happening in the United-States to ease the use of Telehealth is not an isolated case. As the COVID-19 is spreading throughout the world, so are the regulations.

Telemedicine to be used globally to fight COVID-19

In Japan, Telehealth took time to ramp up. Last year, we wrote that 2019 will be the year for telemedicine in Japan. It took a long time for Japan to accept this new means of communication between patients and doctors. This was mostly due to the opposition of the Japan Medical Association, representing the interests of private health care professionals. For small clinics, Telehealth is seen as a competitor and a threat.

It is expected that the restrictions on Telemedicine will be lifted later this month. If this is confirmed, this will open the way for patients to consult with doctors online and receive a prescription without the need for an in-person visit. Such services will be covered by Japan’s national health care insurance and will dramatically reduce in-person contacts.

Israel and the Sheba’s Hospital went one step further, and patients in quarantine are monitored from their home using connected devices, and a robot developed by InTouch Health.

In the United Kingdom, before the virus outbreak, telehealth consultations accounted for only 1 percent of the 340 million yearly consultations with doctors and nurses. Companies Push Doctor and Docly saw a 70% and 100% increase in demand, respectively, in the weeks that followed the spread of the Coronavirus,

Telehealth regulatory hurdles and privacy concerns impairing the development of Telehealth disappeared. In Germany, the standards for privacy and data protection are rigorous. Even there, the rules have been loosened in response to the virus.

Benefits of Telehealth in times of pandemic

COVID-19 brought a lot of stress to the national healthcare systems. Saving lives does not only occurs in hospitals. Telehealth has the potential to benefit disease control and prevention strategies in various ways, such as:

  1. Balancing the load according to the local areas of medical needs. In the U.S., physicians are now allowed to deliver telemedicine services and prescriptions irrespectively of their States of registration,
  2. Taking advantage of the practitioners quarantined at home who can contribute to the healthcare system,
  3. Providing healthcare services to non-COVID-19 patients without risking contamination.

The year 2020 will forever change Digital Healthcare

During the COVID-19, Telemedicine has proven itself as a life-saving technology. This crisis will forever change not only the way we work but also how we take care of ourselves. According to Marketstudyreport, the global Telehealth market was anticipated to reach USD 16 billion by 2025. Crises always pave the way to new technologies and political or societal changes. Didn’t Antonine Plague contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire nearly 2,000 years ago?

No doubt that the current pandemic will change Telehealth forever. Hashi Consulting can help you optimize this digital transformation. The goal is for communication technologies to benefit the patients, the healthcare systems, and society as a whole.