21 June, 2021

Where does Telemedicine stand after the COVID outbreak?

By: Omar Abdul-Hafiz

Doctor prescribing medications to patient over the Internet.
There is no question that 2020 was an extraordinary year in all facets of life, and most remarkably in the healthcare sector. One major challenge that faced the world during those difficult times was maintaining adequate and smooth access to healthcare services while at the same time maintaining sufficient social distancing. One of the major ways that this was achieved was through the fast emerging trend of Telemedicine.

Telemedicine, despite its limitations, has indeed proven quite useful in maintaining continuous communication between doctors and their patients, especially for cases that required routine check-ups.

But before we go further into the discussion, let us first differentiate between Telemedicine and Telehealth as these two terms often get mixed up.

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine

According to, which is the official website of The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Telehealth is different from Telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than Telemedicine.
  • While Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, Telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.

So, Telehealth is broader than Telemedicine as it includes more activities than clinical services, such as training administrative workers. Yet, for the purpose of this article, we shall assume that they both carry a similar meaning.

With this being said, here is a list of some of the main ways Telemedicine/Telehealth had helped leverage the healthcare system during the pandemic.

It has proven very useful

According to experts, Telemedicine has proven particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic in several ways; here are some of them.

Diversifying the options

According to Susan Snedaker, Information Security Officer and interim CIO at Tucson Medical Center, virtual healthcare solutions gave them “a new approach to patient visits”. For example, they even conducted virtual visits within the premises of the medical center for the purpose of reducing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) use.

Furthermore, Telemedicine also allowed healthcare providers decide which type of visit (in-person, telephone, or video-conferencing) is best for each patient. This made it possible to create a more personalized patient-experience according to each patient’s specific needs and preferences.

Care where it is most needed

In the traditional healthcare systems, doctors and patients were limited by time and space. This is because both doctors and patients had to be available within one physical building (i.e. a hospital, a medical center, etc.) at the same time in order for the healthcare service to take place. This placed a lot of pressure on rooms, wards, beds, and physical equipment, making it hard to prioritize which patients needed the most attention, and thus required more resources.

By utilizing Telemedicine, though, it becomes much easier to sort patients according to the urgency of their cases. This way, we can allocate in-house resources to serve patients who seriously need them. As for those who have rather milder cases, they can be easily taken care of remotely with no problems.

Case in point: Ohio State Harding Hospital

To put things in context, let us take a look at a case from the real world where Telemedicine helped greatly improve the overall quality of medical services. For that, we will take the example of Ohio State Harding Hospital in Columbus, Ohio as a case in point.

Kristen Carpenter, director of ambulatory services at the hospital, said the hospital provided some Telehealth services before the pandemic. However, “it mostly was used”, Carpenter explains, “to connect different emergency rooms and to provide emergency psychiatric care.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Ohio State Harding Hospital went from providing “almost 100% in-person care to almost 100% care via Telehealth” in a very short period.

As for the patient experience, Carpenter said that their patients have experienced almost no interruption in their care. “We have been able to provide care that we never thought we could do via Telehealth”, she explained. Furthermore, Carpenter even foresees this as a near-future trend where patients will have more flexibility in choosing how they prefer to receive their healthcare services.

Conclusion: Is Telemedicine here to stay?

Based on the facts above, it appears that Telemedicine may not be a temporary solution to the special circumstances brought about by the COVID pandemic. Quite the contrary, it seems like it will continue to thrive in the future. This is largely due to the new level of flexibility it had brought to the healthcare sector, which would be greatly helpful in two major ways.

First, it can contribute greatly to making the healthcare sector as future-proof against big crises and challenges as it can be. And secondly, it also helps in establishing a more patient-centric healthcare experience as it allows for more flexibility in delivering the healthcare service according to each patient’s specific needs, while at the same time making it easier to allocate the healthcare facility’s resources more efficiently.

One last question that we could ask ourselves, however, is:

How can we make the most out of Telemedicine services?

The short answer is: This requires a specific set of tools.

Want the long answer? Stay tuned for our upcoming article where we will be looking at things in a broader light by discussing the concept of digital patient engagement!

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