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Technological advancements have a way of making commonly used practices seem archaic almost overnight and, in the wake of COVID-19, telemedicine is beginning to have that same effect. The industry is currently altering the landscape of medicine and some are saying it's the future of healthcare.

The coronavirus pandemic is not a short-term issue. The reverberating effects of the pandemic are establishing "new normals" in virtually every industry. As medical professionals struggle to meet the needs of patients, telemedicine companies have become welcome allies that may be here to stay. 

The Rise of Telemedicine

What is telemedicine? Telemedicine allows for the diagnosis and treatment of patients from the comfort of their homes. Originally intended to help reach patients without immediate access to healthcare facilities, the convenience of these online doctor visits have gained widespread popularity.

The practice makes it much less stressful to get a prescription and circumvents the process of having to wait in a room with other sick people. Follow-up care also becomes easier with increased flexibility of appointment times.

The many benefits of telemedicine have led to an increased demand for these services. As of 2017, 71% of healthcare providers offered some form of telemedicine, up from roughly 54% in 2014.

But while digital healthcare services have been on the rise for years, rules and regulations within the industry have made it difficult for telemedicine companies to find firm footing in the industry.

Since 2010, there has been approximately $58 billion invested in digital health, including $44 billion from venture capitalist funding. While the sector had seen growth in the three consecutive years between 2016 to 2018, 2019 saw a 6% drop.

Miles of red tape within the industry, including asking medical professionals to change age-old practices, began to prove difficult for digital healthcare services despite the obvious benefits they provide. 

The Need for Change 

Doctor Carolyn Jasik, the Chief Medical Officer of Omada Health, said, "It is easier and more convenient to order a cheeseburger from McDonald's on an app than it is to access healthcare in America."

People and industries tend to avoid change until they are forced into it, and COVID-19 has done just that. The pandemic has caused such upheaval that it's given the healthcare industry a reason to sidestep regulations in order to continue serving patients.

"It is easier and more convenient to order a cheeseburger from McDonald’s on an app than it is to access healthcare in America."

Dr. Carolyn Jasik

Jasik explained, "Barriers that were seemingly insurmountable, things like reimbursement and cross-state licensure, are now being openly discussed in order to get these solutions out to people."

More and more medical professionals like Doctor Jasik are beginning to realize that telemedicine provides an avenue for the modernization and streamlining of healthcare. In times like these, telemedicine also meets a critical need for patients who feel safer seeking medical attention from home.

COVID-19 Increases Demand

While the global population focuses on the coronavirus outbreak, patients with cancer, heart disease, immune disorders, and others continue to need treatment. Telemedicine allows professionals to provide that treatment while continuing to respect social distancing guidelines.

"At our company, we work with folks with obesity and diabetes and hypertension - the top three identified conditions that make you most at risk for complications with COVID. We have to figure out how to serve these patients in their homes and that's really new for healthcare," Jasik said.

Clinicians are now allowed to provide treatment to patients across the country.

Telemedicine companies have stepped up to the plate, and appointments on computer screens are now happening at a rate never before seen. Previously, clinicians were only licensed to treat patients in their own state. Now, they're allowed to provide treatment across the country.

Many are beginning to wonder if telemedicine will become a pillar of medical care long past the days of the pandemic. Or, will getting online care fade away once it's no longer absolutely necessary?

What Will the Future of Healthcare Look Like? 

Although the answer to this question is unclear, many former practices that were once common procedures in the medical community now look absurd in hindsight. For example, only decades ago did medical professionals begin wearing gloves and practicing proper hand washing protocol. A little over a century ago, cocaine was used to treat toothaches and indigestion.

Which practices do we currently see as cutting-edge that will one day be negligible? It could be that we physically visited an office for treatment, where we were surrounded by other sick people. Or, that we waited until something hurt to seek treatment and then paid astronomical amounts for the simplest of doctor visits.

"Barriers that were seemingly insurmountable... are now being openly discussed in order to get these solutions out to people."

Dr. Carolyn Jasik

Losses from the COVID-19 pandemic are devastating, but it's possible that from this tragedy we are recognizing solutions to many of the current inadequacies in the healthcare industry. Telemedicine is making it easier for doctors to provide treatment and has the potential to make healthcare more affordable.

While COVID-19 will at some point be a thing of the past, the fear of universally-spread illness will likely be something that humans grapple with forever. Providing a service that alleviates so many of the associated concerns seems to be a natural path for the medical industry to follow.

For more interesting news about the people and ideas that are changing our world, subscribe to Freethink.

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