Telemedicine did a fantastic job keeping doctors and patients connected during COVID shutdowns. It was an amazing thing to see. What telemedicine advocates spent years pushing for, COVID managed to accomplish seemingly overnight: getting providers and regulators to green light telemedicine. But with the pandemic finally over, telemedicine is once again being squelched.
A recent report from NBC News suggests that there are now 39 states that have turned the clock back on telemedicine by letting the waivers put in place during the pandemic expire. Texas residents apparently got a reprieve through the end of November 2022, but its waivers are likely to expire in December.
Why is this happening? Why are we rejecting a system that worked nearly flawlessly when clinicians and patients had no other choice but to visit remotely? NBC News offers three reasons, all of which are invalid when common sense is applied.
1. Fears That Patients Are Paying More
There are fears that patients are actually paying more for healthcare services via the telemedicine model. Fine. It is something that’s worth looking into. But as NBC points out, such fears are not justified by any data. There are no studies that even suggest higher costs might be a problem. It is simply a theory.
Here’s the thing: there is no way to determine if telemedicine ultimately costs more without actually trying it. If we put the shackles back on and squelch telemedicine like we have for the last decade, we will never know its true financial cost.
The other thing about cost is that it is relative. Even if a telemedicine primary care visit costs a patient a little more out-of-pocket, would it be more than the cost of the time and gas the patient would otherwise put into driving to the doctor’s office and sitting in a waiting room? Again, there is no way to know without letting things run their course.
2. Fears That Quality Is Not as Good
Next up is the fear that the quality of telemedicine isn’t as good as in-person visits. We have been hearing this particular complaint for as long as telemedicine has been around. But once again, there is little data supporting the argument. In fact, NBC points out several studies suggesting just the opposite.
Claims of inferior quality could be taken more seriously if telemedicine consisted of nothing more than video chats. But according to San Antonio’s CSI Health, modern telemedicine technology is far more advanced. Just as an example, CSI’s remote medical kiosks and mobile telemedicine screening tools come with built-in diagnostics that send data to clinicians in real time. Think tools like ultrasound and ECG/EKG.
3. The Risk of Fraud
Finally, telemedicine critics are quick to point out instances of fraud during the COVID pandemic. They say telemedicine increases fraud risk by making it too easy. Once again, where is the data? One or two anecdotal stories does not justify condemning an entire industry.
Furthermore, fraud has been rampant in traditional medicine for decades. How many cases do the Feds prosecute every year? How many millions (if not billions) have been stolen through fraudulent Medicare claims, kickback schemes, etc. – all without telemedicine in the picture?
There may be legitimate reasons to keep telemedicine on a short leash. If those reasons exist, we don’t yet know what they are. The only way to figure it out is to give telemedicine a fair shake for 5 to 10 years and observe the consequences.
Telemedicine was never given a fair shake prior to COVID. Now that its day has finally arrived, it seems foolish to squelch it.