Bridging the Digital Divide: Creating a Personalised Telehealth Experience
Technological advances over the past decade have propelled telehealth and telemedicine from a novel concept into a widespread reality. In the decade prior to 2020, the adoption of telehealth by healthcare providers was progressing at a leisurely but steady pace.
Within months of entering 2020, telehealth received a sudden, albeit sombre boost. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the importance of telehealth as a vital component of patient care when many healthcare practices and facilities closed their doors to non-emergency treatment and restricted face-to-face medical consultations in an effort to stem the disease outbreak. A report in September 2020, Digital Transformation: Shaping the future of European healthcare, found that, as a result of COVID-19, 65% of clinicians surveyed said their “organisation had increased the adoption of digital technologies to support their ways of working and as a way of providing access to patients.”
In the wake of COVID-19, many healthcare leaders and experts believe that telehealth will continue to flourish and offer a viable alternative to receiving and delivering face-to-face care and treatment.
Looking to the future, it is important to consider both the benefits telehealth may deliver, as well as the challenges it may create. Persistent concerns with telehealth have included the effect of technology on the healthcare provider/patient relationship and whether the digital divide could be detrimental to providing personalised care.
The General Medical Council (GMC) has recognised that many doctors are now assessing and treating patients by remote consultations. Doctors must ensure they comply with the GMC “Ethical guidance” when undertaking telehealth appointments. The GMC “Remote consultations” flow chart is designed to assist doctors to manage patient safety risks and decide when it is safe to treat patients remotely.
In addition, the GMC has published updated guidance on prescribing; effective from 5 April 2021. This guidance is specifically designed to support doctors who are increasingly seeing patients via remote consultations. The “Good practice in prescribing and managing medicines and devices: updated guidance” reminds doctors that “the same standards remain when prescribing remotely as they do when seeing a patient face-to-face, such as being satisfied that an adequate assessment has been made, establishing a dialogue and obtaining the patient’s consent”.
The trajectory of post-pandemic telehealth remains uncertain. Its increasing use before COVID-19 and its dominant status during the pandemic suggest that the use of telehealth will not wane. Indeed, it is more likely that telehealth will continue to be offered as an alternative to face-to-face consultations, where appropriate and in line with public health and safety needs.
Although the start of 2021 has been challenging for all healthcare professionals, we sincerely hope brighter times are ahead. If you have any queries or concerns surrounding the issues raised in this article, please do not hesitate to call the PMP medicolegal helpline. The helpline is open 24/7, contact details can be found on your policy documents or customer card.