The Pros and Cons of Telehealth in the Time of Pandemic

nurse treating a patient

These are trying times — there are so many restrictions on human mobility all over the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Life, as we know it, has changed, and there’s no telling how long this situation will continue. For now, all we can do is adapt to the times and find ways to keep key industries and services going.

Healthcare is one of the most important services that must evolve in response to the pandemic. Now more than ever, people must have access to primary healthcare services. Fortunately, there’s already an existing system of healthcare delivery that’s become very useful during this pandemic: telehealth.

Telehealth (also telemedicine) is already available before COVID-19, but it’s only now that it is widely practiced by hospitals, private practices, clinics, treatment centers, and other healthcare providers. Unsurprisingly, there are some cons to match its pros. Below are some of them.

Convenient yet Inaccessible for Some

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it dangerous for people with pre-existing conditions and vulnerable immune systems to go out of their homes without adequate protection. The risk of catching the virus increases the longer a person is outdoors: COVID-19 is transmitted via the respiratory droplets a person produces from sneezing and coughing. Telehealth has been widely and rapidly implemented since the first quarter of 2020 because of this. It allowed patients to continue receiving care from general practitioners and specialists in the safety of their homes.

Telehealth is very convenient for patients. The video conferences are set up by the healthcare provider; all patients have to do is click on the link they will receive via text or email.

Telehealth, therefore, is dependent on Internet services and modern devices that can support video conferencing. This is not a problem for patients in America’s wealthiest communities like Darien and Westport in Connecticut or University Park in Texas. But in the less affluent neighborhoods and rural areas where Internet infrastructure is weak, telehealth creates yet another barrier between patients and quality healthcare services.

medical personnel

Adequate for Follow-ups yet Insufficient for Some Diagnoses

In the months following the implementation of telehealth in the U.S., the feedback from general practitioners had been fairly positive. They are still able to correctly assess their patients’ health status and advise them on how to remedy health concerns through video consultations.

The mental healthcare industry also had a similarly positive response to telehealth. One could say that this industry is more prepared for the shift to virtual consultations: the American Psychological Association had already reported an increase in the demand for online therapy back in 2017. This year, 76% of clinicians are now solely offering remote therapy or teletherapy and telepsychiatry services.

Of course, telehealth in the U.S. still has a lot to improve on, from regulations to laws on health insurance coverage. Telehealth also cannot eliminate the need for face-to-face consultations because certain services require the patient and doctor to both be present in a healthcare facility. Moreover, general practitioners need to perform physical examinations to diagnose complex health problems. The same goes for

Affordable but Can Lead to More Expenses

One more important advantage of telehealth services is it is more affordable than office consultations. Kaiser Health News reported in 2017 that remote consultations cost $79 on average while in-person consultations cost around $146. The HealthLeaders website revealed updated figures in 2019, reporting that patients who receive telehealth care instead of ER treatment can save over $1,500 per visit.

There is, however a risk for patients to end up spending more on telehealth than hospital visits. As these appointments are easy to set-up, people who would normally think twice about consulting their family doctor for every health concern would instead take advantage of the opportunity. The lower cost of a telehealth consultation can also create a false sense of security, encouraging people to make numerous appointments. In light of the ongoing pandemic, people will likely immediately consult their physicians if they experience fever, sore throat, colds, cough, and other known symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

Remote healthcare services are crucial at times like this. It’s also imperative that the government and key players in mental and physical healthcare sectors work together to ensure improvements in telehealth services.