Telemedicine has played a key role during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing non-urgent but vital care to be provided in the safety of a patient’s home, while hospitals and primary care centers focus on emergency treatment. While the benefits of telemedicine are clear during a global pandemic, will telemedicine continue to grow and be a part of our lives in a post-lockdown world? What is the value of telemedicine? How can telemedicine be used to lessen the burden on health systems and improve quality of care? Before we tackle these questions, let’s first address three common myths.
Myth 1: Telemedicine is just teleconsultation used in primary care settings.
Reality: Telemedicine has many roles in healthcare delivery and spans the entire patient journey.
Telemedicine takes many forms and is often labelled with a wide variety of terms: digital health, e-health, telehealth or teleconsultation, just to name a few. Ask someone what these words mean and you’re likely to get ambiguous and overlapping definitions.
With the rising demand for digital health and telemedicine applications over the past year, the industry, including regulators and professional associations, is actively working to clarify and define key terms to provide necessary clarity in a rapidly evolving space. Examples include the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society releasing a definition for “digital health” in March 2020, and the EU Medical Devices Directive expanding to include telemedicine solutions as part of their regulatory framework. The Digital Therapeutics Alliance has also drawn boundaries and classified an important subset of telemedicine technology – digital therapeutics (DTx). Industry alignment is fundamental in creating a shared language and understanding, underpinning the creation of regulatory pathways and assessment framework to advance progress.
We reviewed the multitude of definitions and see telemedicine as, in essence, the provision of clinical services remotely using both virtual and digital interactions at the core of a broad and complex set of digitally enabled healthcare interactions.
The following are not included in our definition of telemedicine:
- Non-clinical telehealth, including telepharmacies, contact tracing and fitness tracking
- Digital applications designed solely for in-person physical settings (e.g. digital lab diagnostics)
- Infrastructure that enables telemedicine, such as EHRs/EMRs, FIHR standards and HIPAA-compliant data centers
To bring this definition to life, we show here how telemedicine can be applied across the patient journey from prevention through wellness.
- Pre-diagnosis: Keeping populations healthy, preventing disease at its root.
Example: CureApp is a prescription DTx that supports patients with nicotine addiction used in conjunction with a portable carbon monoxide checker and is the first DTx to be nationally reimbursed in Japan.
- Diagnosis: Driving faster patient identification, diagnosis or triage to therapy; plugging gaps in care.
Example: In the U.K., Arc Health partnered with EMIS Health to improve GP access in care homes with its remote diagnostic platform for the patient with a number of connected meters and a camera. The partnership will introduce Arc to 57% of GP practices across the country.
- Post-diagnosis: Supporting remote patient monitoring, disease management or adherence.
Example: FreeStyle Libre, a continuous glucose monitoring system, provides care for more than 2 million people across 57 countries, with reimbursement secured in 37 countries. Studies demonstrate increased glucose control for users who consistently scan.
Myth 2: Telemedicine is a new development that would not exist without COVID-19.
Reality: COVID-19 accelerated telemedicine adoption by amplifying macrotrends and filling both new and pre-existing gaps in care, as the pandemic disrupted in-person physician visits and…