Telemedicine: The Evolution of the Once Taboo Practice

by Vance Farrell

Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication technologies, such as phone calls, video chats, or other pieces of technology, for the diagnoses and treatment of the consumers utilizing the service by the providers. This form of treatment is not one that was heard of being utilized much before the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the typical procedure involved consumers going in to see the doctors, therapists, specialists, or other providers at their office when there were openings in their schedules or to the hospital and/or urgent care for more extreme and time-sensitive matters. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries have adapted to working remotely and adjusting their schedules and routines to accommodate the guidelines put in place. One such industry where this change has caused a drastic rethinking of how things could be run is in the medical and mental health field. Telemedicine is becoming a popular and common practice amongst many working in the field and those utilizing the services. By this point, everybody has utilized telemedicine for one thing or another, and there are a wide variety of opinions associated with the practice for a myriad of reasons.  

When this practice was first starting to be utilized en masse, a lot of the providers and workers were highly skeptical of whether or not this practice would work for their specialty, given the importance that face-to-face interactions have on those seeking medical or mental health assistance. Face-to-face interactions allow service providers to gather a lot of information about the consumer they are working with. Body language, facial expressions when talking about certain subjects, physical appearance, hygiene, and various other factors that are often considered when diagnosing or simply working with an individual to gauge their level of interest in certain activities, response to certain treatments or therapeutic approaches, as well as progress made since their last visit. The fear of not being able to physically assess this information made the practice of telemedicine have a taboo feel to it. And made it a last resort type of practice to only be utilized when necessary, oftentimes with insurance companies limiting the amount of time telemedicine services could be used over a given length of time.  

Since the start of the pandemic, when the practice became commonplace throughout, many providers and consumers seeking assistance have come to like the ease with which an appointment can take place now that routine visits or therapy appointments can be conducted through a phone call or video chat. These new experiences take the place of the typical drive to an office, sitting in the waiting room, and then the drive home, at which point one of those drives is bound to get you caught in rush hour traffic. This change has also allowed for the prioritization of consumers with more serious needs to be able to get in to see their doctor, therapist, or specialist without experiencing long waits, as could be the case previously. Additionally, for providers, the benefits of not needing as large of spaces for people to work out of because of them working remotely has allowed them to downsize certain facilities or maneuver resources in a manner that allows them to save money and potentially be less wasteful overall. Which has large impacts outside of the organization and in the community in general.  

This change in thinking and practice has driven many consumers and providers to urge insurance companies to ensure that this practice is allowed to be continued past the pandemic and be utilized for many practices where face-to-face appointments may not be necessary. Services that are considered routine services, weekly scheduled appointments or check-ups, or sudden but non-emergency calls can now be more easily managed and accommodated through telemedicine with remote providers utilizing unique schedules that allow them to be available during a larger range of times for the consumers they serve. While this practice is not widely accepted by all, its benefits can clearly be seen, and the impact it has had on the way medicine is practiced and is sure to be felt for years to come.

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