Apr 4, 2020 - Health

Telemedicine doesn't waste a crisis

In this illustration, a stethoscope becomes a USB outlet

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We're going to see more medical care delivered remotely — both during the pandemic and after.

The big picture: Health care has always been one of our most regulated industries, which slows the pace of innovation. But the emergency nature of COVID-19 is taking the shackles off telemedicine.

As part of the $2 trillion CARES Act passed last week by Congress to respond to COVID-19, the Federal Communications Commission plans to spend $200 million to support telehealth programs.

  • It's one of a number of efforts to leverage remote technology to expand health care at a moment when the demand for services is high but face-to-face contact presents its own risks for patients and providers.

Be smart: Telemedicine isn't just about patients speaking to a remote doctor via a smartphone app like Teladoc, which last month reported virtual visits increasing by 50% because of the pandemic. Hospitals can take advantage of remote doctors by outsourcing specialities, such as radiology.

  • Collaborative Imaging is an alliance of radiologists who remotely view X-rays or CT scans from a hospital and confer with attending physicians on patient care via a smartphone app.
  • Besides allowing for hospitals to tap a wider range of sub-specialists than they might be able to bring on board in person, remote work is also safer in the time of COVID-19. "In case I'm infected, I don't have to worry about infecting others, and vice versa," says Dhruv Chopra, CEO of Collaborative Imaging.

Regulations that required radiologists to be licensed in the states of the hospitals they were reading for, even if they were working remotely, held back the practice. But after President Trump declared a state of emergency on March 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provided blanket waivers for telemedicine providers to practice across state lines.

  • There are still complexities around private insurance networks that vary from state to state, but Chopra expects remote radiology to continue to grow. "This is going to change the industry dramatically. You won't go back to the days of lots of radiologists under one roof."

The bottom line: Crises have a way of knocking aside the barriers to innovation — even in a practice as regulated as medicine.

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