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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine and telehealth have become vital to deliver care for many patients’ needs. Utilizing virtual options can help protect patients and providers through contactless digital interactions.

The strain that the pandemic continues to place on hospital systems and the medical profession is drawing attention to telemedicine and telehealth today, but these virtual care options have existed as part of the healthcare industry for some time.

Here are some factors that have contributed to the stall in the widespread adoption of telemedicine and telehealth services prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital Literacy

To take advantage of virtual healthcare options, both patients and providers should be comfortable navigating the related technology. The Pew Research Center found that 81% of Americans reported going online daily and 81% owned a smartphone, supporting the notion that consumers crave digital connection and instant access experiences. Those ages 65 and older made up just 53% of smartphone owners.

Groups that can greatly benefit from contactless medical options like the elderly may need extra assistance with devices necessary to connect them to healthcare professionals. Providers can help empower patients through open and regular communication about how their telehealth programs will work, how to best communicate through appropriate devices and how patients can modify their devices for optimal telehealth-related use.

Broadband Access

Lack of and limited broadband internet access is another factor that can restrict access to telehealth, making it more difficult for providers to launch such programs. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently launched the Keep Americans Connected Initiative in direct response to the challenges that limited broadband access in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FCC also unveiled the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to support eligible providers by fully funding program elements that are essential in delivering care such as devices, telecommunications services and information services.

Security and Privacy of Personal Data

Questions and concerns about privacy and the security of personal data and records are not uncommon for those utilizing virtual healthcare. Many of those concerns can be alleviated by being in the know about the current landscape of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. This act sets the standards and guidelines for privacy and security for healthcare providers and any of their partners who might handle patients’ health information. Specifically, HIPAA’s Security Rule speaks to the maintenance, transmission, creation, and receipt of protected health information.

Physicians Licensing Across States

Though virtual healthcare options can allow providers to deliver service to patients beyond their immediate area, physicians licensing can be another hurdle to face as regulations vary from state to state. When it comes to telehealth, generally, the patient and physician must be in the same state at the time of treatment. In consideration of the pandemic, states are making temporary shifts to their policies on the matter to help make the delivery and receiving of virtual care more accessible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked lasting shifts across the industry. As barriers are lifted, virtual care cements its place in modern healthcare. In today’s digital world, providers should consider long-term strategies that are prepared to effectively address such barriers and those that are sure to arise as the landscape evolves.

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