The Rise of Telemedicine: Safeguarding Patients and Their Data

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Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Alejandro Coca, co-head of TrueProfile.io

The industry of virtual health appointments, otherwise known as telemedicine, has seen a dramatic boom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new research now predicts that it’s set to save the global healthcare industry billions by 2025. At the beginning of the pandemic, GP surgeries urged patients not to come into their practice to prevent the potential spread of the virus and health secretary Matt Hancock advised that consultations should be done by telemedicine where possible.

Since then, there’s been a dramatic increase in the use of telemedicine, with a survey by the Royal College of GPs finding that six in 10 appointments in mid-July were conducted by telephone[1]. Additionally, new research from Juniper research has found that telemedicine is projected to save the global healthcare industry $21bn in costs by 2025[2]. In light of these findings, it’s clear to see that this approach to primary care is here to stay.

However, for many the current approach taken to telemedicine is not sustainable and therefore needs an update. As many rushed into telemedicine options during the first lockdown, healthcare organisations were unfortunately forced into implementing unsophisticated systems or using video conferencing tools not designed for the purpose of healthcare. We have now moved past this period and healthcare institutions are looking for long term solutions to telemedicine services. There are plenty of providers out there with a fantastic offering, designed specifically for a healthcare setting.

But will the public embrace this new way of doing things? Well, while the use of telemedicine has currently dropped slightly compared to the beginning of the pandemic, it is an approach that is due to continue growing over the coming years, in part due to the increasing widespread public acceptance of technology. From people increasing their online spending and working remotely to becoming more familiar with various video platforms and accepting more digital payment methods – even technophobes have been embracing technologies, new systems and processes. It’s therefore clear to see that telemedicine will only increase over the coming years.

However, with rapid technological advancements comes potential risks, and it’s important that safety and privacy concerns are abated. Providers must ensure they put patient safety first by ensuring they hire verified medical professionals and by investing in the right technology to facilitate telemedicine.

Ensuring patient safety

The first thought in any telemedicine implementation should be around patient safety. This form of primary care needs to provide patients with a safe environment and the key way to achieve this is through the right medical professionals. It’s critical for healthcare professionals to be properly vetted before allowing them to practice on a telemedicine platform. While the NHS has outlined long term plans to allow every patient in the UK access to digital GP consultations, this is not a reality yet and so there are a whole host of new providers offering virtual health services which need to quickly scale in order to meet patient demand. They are therefore recruiting aggressively, which has the potential to be great for patients, who will be able to get access to a doctor’s appointment instantly as a result. However, this is only great if patient care is kept front of mind too.

Telemedicine providers must ensure they source verified, credible healthcare professionals to be assured of their skills and qualifications. Verification is an important step in the healthcare process as it is, but in a physical environment, once a healthcare professional is hired, they typically are then further assessed by their peers, who evaluate their abilities. The very nature of virtual healthcare makes this process difficult, meaning it’s even more important to ensure thorough skills and qualification verification. Only through this can providers ensure they offer patients the best services in an increasingly competitive marketplace, while also keeping them protected.

Protection of patient data

Alongside patient safety, there is also a concern over patient privacy and because telemedicine is much more than simply a video call, providers should also be placing data protection at the top of their agendas.

Telemedicine services allow patients and doctors to share and store sensitive information such as test results and x-rays, so it’s imperative that the right technology is in place to ensure these records are protected.

This is where the use of blockchain should be implemented – a technology that enables decentralised storage of data so that no central party has control over its content, and nobody can tamper with the records because every member has to agree to its validity and can check the history of record changes.

Safeguarding patients

With telemedicine increasing at a rapid pace, providers must ensure they scale responsibly in order to maintain a reliable service. While the focus previously was all about getting a service up and running as quickly as possible, in order to continue appointments for patients, the focus now needs to be on implementing a long-term solution with the patient at the heart of the service. When it comes to healthcare, patient safety should always come first. As a result of the pandemic and the negative news it often brings, it is more important now than ever to ensure that you hire pre-verified healthcare professionals to deliver frontline care through the ever-evolving medium of telemedicine. 

[1] https://www.rcgp.org.uk/about-us/news/2020/july/rcgp-survey-provides-snapshot-of-how-gp-care-is-accessed-in-latest-stages-of-pandemic.aspx

[2] https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252500459/Telemedicine-to-save-healthcare-industry-tens-of-billions-globally-by-2025

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