Docs say telemedicine requires more safety research

Doctor with phone and tablet

While telemedicine can help prevent medical errors, potential dangers of its use may not be known or fully understood, according to a perspective article at PSNet, the Patient Safety Network.

The authors, Partners HealthCare Connected Health’s Stephen Agboola, M.D., and Joseph Kvedar, M.D., write that while there are many benefits to telemedicine use, there must be more research conducted to determine where patient safety issues lie.

They point to research showing that telemedicine can improve continuity of care and patient self-management and at the same time reduce costs. Other research backs telemedicine as a way to prevent treatment-related errors between clinic visits and detect preventable treatment-related adverse events that might otherwise go unnoticed by care providers.

While telemedicine is expected to adhere to the same standards as in-person care, some are calling for stricter standards, and those boundaries are one of the primary points research should address, they say.

While mobile health apps are proliferating, many are developed without medical input and marketed directly to consumers without formal testing for safety or effectiveness, a situation the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission are scrambling to address.

“Rather than stop the forward progress, we argue for a more thoughtful, continuous safety improvement process that could start from the moment of project conception,” write Agboola and Kvedar.

Partners is no stranger to advancements in mobile health, conducting studies on the technology's role in stress management and the use of mobile mood trackers.

To better ensure the safety of the tools, the authors other suggestions include requiring safety testing, but not solely in academic medical settings; increasing regulatory and industry organizations' involvement in creating consensus-driven guidelines; and making risks clear at patient enrollment in telemedicine programs, among other practices.