Providers: Don't overlook telemedicine drawbacks

While momentum for the use of telemedicine in an everyday manner continues to build, there also are downsides to using such tools that must not be overlooked, according to a recent Government Health IT post.

For instance, in addition to the oft broached issues of licensure and reimbursement, the identification of patient micro-expressions by mental health professionals can be a more difficult process when completed using video technology for teletherapy, Paul Ekman, a psychologist and pioneer in micro-expression research, told Government Health IT. Micro-expressions can help such providers identify hidden emotions in their patients.

Along those same lines, such technology can make it difficult to differentiate between a patient who has a runny nose, as opposed to someone who is tearing up, according to Robert Cuyler, a practicing psychologist and senior associate at healthcare consulting firm Open Minds.

Cuyler also said that providers who treat patients using telemedicine tools might not be aware of domestic violence risks, suicide risks or other emergencies. What's more, he said, regulatory issues--such as the safety of prescribing narcotic-based drugs to someone at their home as opposed to in a healthcare setting--loom for providers who use telemedicine.

Last summer, health attorney René Y. Quashie of Epstein Becker Green identified several issues with telehealth that he said should keep healthcare leaders awake at night. Two of those issues included:

  • Lack of highly developed protocols and guidelines: Physician, professional and trade organizations, Quashie said, need to take the lead in developing best practices to overcome the skepticism of regulators and payers. Though the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been at the forefront of offering remote services, ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous has called the government overall a "lagging partner" in the move to telehealth.
  • HIPAA privacy and security: Since technology resides at the core of providing remote services and records of it, there simply are more opportunities for patient information to be exposed, Quashie said. To that end, he called privacy the biggest threat to the future viability of telehealth.

For more:
- read the Government Health IT post

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