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  • Human Rights Research Center

Telehealth’s Impact on Healthcare

December 20, 2023


Telehealth has revolutionized how patients are treated by allowing long-distance contact, immediate care, and easy monitoring. This was especially true during the years of COVID-19 when in-person contact was essentially forbidden.


The use of telehealth before COVID-19 was underused and understated. It wasn’t a heavy topic and was always the alternative to medical check-ups. But COVID-19 changed all of that. In March 2020, there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits, and due to social distancing practices, telehealth had multiple benefits including expanding access to care, reducing disease exposure for staff and patients, reducing patient demand on facilities, and preserving scarce supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) [4]. Telehealth, once an alternative, became the primary mode of healthcare delivery.



But, even before COVID-19 hit, telehealth still changed lives and highlighted the importance and usefulness of its practice. One such example is through an organization called Global Offsite Care. This particular nonprofit focuses on telemedicine in developing countries and provides equipment like web cameras and computers for physicians and healthcare workers to use as part of their practice. Since their start in 2013, they have 18 established telemedicine projects between 11 countries across 3 continents [2].




In a technologically advanced world where AI is becoming smarter, telehealth is a logical next step within the medical field. However, as we have seen many times before with internet scammers, there are costs in using technology to handle sensitive information. So, what are the costs of telehealth?


An article in the AMA Journal of Ethics [3] identified significant privacy and security risks in telehealth systems. They note how current regulations don’t provide sufficient guidance for developers or protection for users. For example, home telehealth devices may collect and transmit information on activities in the household that a patient wishes to keep private such as substance abuse. This parallels smartphone apps that share sensitive data with advertisers and other third parties. According to authors Hale and Kvedar, “The primary security risk is that of unauthorized access to data during collection, transmission, or storage. Any transfer offers the potential for a security breach. …despite efforts to create secure devices and apps, many contain serious flaws, and hackers and malware pose an increasing threat to the security of telehealth systems.” Another potential drawback is the disappearance of the doctor-patient connection. In-person visits, especially a patient’s first, allow one to evaluate their physician and talk with them which can be hard in a telemedicine visit. A diagnosis like cancer can be an emotionally charged event, allowing doctors to provide immediate responses without a screen dividing them, while issues like abdominal pain can’t be adequately addressed without a physical exam [1].


Do the benefits of telehealth outweigh the costs?


I say it does. Telehealth provides cost-effective and efficient medical services to millions of people worldwide. Yes, there are security risks, however, with updated security protocols and mandatory preventative measures like antivirus software or encrypted internet access, telehealth can be a standardized practice for patients. This would especially decrease the challenges faced by rural and developing communities. In-person physical examinations cannot be avoided, as this can lead to medical diagnoses not applicable over screens, but telehealth has now brought a choice for the patient on how they wish to be treated. It may not be ideal in certain situations, but at least there is an alternative. Telehealth is here to stay and addressing the risks should be a top priority so both patients and healthcare workers have a transparent and safe environment to be treated and work in.


 

Sources


1. Andrews, M. (2023, March 6). Virtual or in person: Which kind of doctor’s visit is better, and when it matters. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/telehealth-or-in-person-doctor-visit-which-is-better/

2. Global Offsite Care. (2023, October 30). https://globaloffsitecare.org

3. Hale, T. M., & Kvedar, J. C. (2014). Privacy and security concerns in Telehealth. AMA Journal of Ethics, 16(12), 981–985. https://doi.org/10.1001/virtualmentor.2014.16.12.jdsc1-1412

4. Koonin LM, Hoots B, Tsang CA, et.al. Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic – United States, January-March 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1595-1599. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6943a3.


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