Our memories of visiting clinics are filled with hustling to get appointments, waiting endlessly for our turns in the waiting rooms and wishing apprehensively to avoid syringes & all sorts of prickly items (well at least when we were kids). All of that might no longer be required. With the rise in telemedicine, we can stay as far away as possible from clinics and still get our regular checkups done.
Like all long overdue things, the pandemic expedited the adoption of telemedicine too. In 2020 alone, consumer adoption of telemedicine jumped to 49% from around 11% in 2019. Further in response to the pandemic, the United States Federal Government lifted several restrictions on telehealth services to add more than 80 additional services. And the global telehealth market is projected to account for around US $ 55.1 billion by the end of 2021. All of these might be pointing towards a new normal in the healthcare industry.
Before we dig deeper into telemedicine let’s understand in simple terms what it refers to. Telemedicine refers to the application of digital technologies, the internet and information technology to deliver remote access to diagnosis, consultation and treatment. It includes everything from a simple video consultation to the use of immersive technologies like augmented and virtual reality to deliver remote care.
Merits of Telemedicine
Lower costs: Patients accessing healthcare via telemedicine enjoy lower costs as they spend less time in the clinics and can even cut down on the multiple commutation and visiting expenses.
Care to more patients: Doctors and medical practitioners will be able to deliver care to more patients via telemedicine. People with disabilities who may have difficulty in commuting, people from remote areas etc will be able to access healthcare without much trouble. Moreover, app-based appointments can help in obtaining better medical triage and generate more traffic towards clinics.
Easier access to data: From a clinician’s point of view, access to all the data and reports of different patients on a single interface can help in prioritising care and focusing more time on patients requiring critical care. From a patient’s point of view, being able to track his/her medical data and recovery rates can help take timely action.
Reduced risk of infection: There are people who have avoided going to hospitals in fear of getting infected. While in critical cases an in-person visit to the hospital is unavoidable, in most cases a simple consultation or a virtually guided physical examination is enough. Telemedicine can deliver remote care to those who don’t require a direct visit and at the same time reduce the spread of infection for both the doctors and the patients.
Convenience: Last but not the least, telemedicine offers greater levels of convenience to patients in accessing healthcare. Patients will no longer be required to travel long distances or take time off from work. They can simply consult doctors in the comfort and privacy of their homes.
Challenges to telemedicine
Insurance: The sad part regarding telemedicine is that it is not covered by all insurers. Hence in cases where there is no insurance coverage accessing telemedicine can become expensive.
Privacy laws: Many providers of telemedicine collect patients’ data to deliver better care. While it is a good thing as it provides better access to data, such providers have to make sure they do everything in compliance with the local privacy laws regarding collecting and sharing sensitive patient data. Failing to do so can land them in unnecessary legal troubles.
Adoption of technology: Although this is not a major concern, it is still worth taking it into consideration. Many doctors are comfortable and experienced in delivering in-person care and consultation. They may not be able to deliver the same quality of care via a digital interface.
Now let us look at a few notable telemedicine companies
Founders: George Byron Brooks
Headquarters: New York, United States
Total funds raised: US $ 172.9 million
Teladoc is a global healthtech company that seeks to accelerate the adoption of virtual healthcare and make high-quality healthcare a reality for more people and organisations around the world.
It states its mission as follows- “ Teladoc Health is empowering all people everywhere to live their healthiest lives by transforming the healthcare experience”
Doctor on Demand
Founders: Adam Jackson, Jay McGraw and Phil McGraw
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States
Total funds raised: US 235.7 million
About Doctor on Demand:
Doctor on Demand is an app-based platform that provides scheduled and on-demand consultation from licensed healthcare providers of the United States. It seeks to make 24/7 access to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists etc from anywhere and at any time a reality.
In March 2021 Doctor on Demand and Grand Rounds Health merged to form the first of its kind patient centric integrated virtual healthcare company.
Founders: Ido Schoenberg and Roy Schoenberg
Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts,United States
Total funds raised: US $ 811 million
Founded in 2006 with its headquarters in Boston, Amwell is a Telehealth company that seeks to deliver greater access to high-quality and affordable healthcare for everyone.
It states its mission as follows- “We connect and enable providers, insurers, patients, and innovators to deliver greater access to more affordable, higher quality care.” Coming to numbers Amwell has over 80 million users and 72k providers using its platform.
Founders: Geoff Rutledge, Ron Gutman, Sastry Nanduri and Sean Mehra
Headquarters: California, United States
Total funds raised: US $ 88.3 million
Healthtap is a telehealth company that seeks to provide 24/7 on-demand care from trusted doctors. It is guided by reputed doctors and powered by AI.
Here’s how it works-
Users will first have to set up their account on Healthtap’s platform and then choose their membership plans. Healthtap then connects users to hundreds of doctors and medical practitioners who can be accessed for both urgent care and primary care.
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