Governments need to sort permanent legal solution as telemedicine is here to stay post-COVID-19

With over three-quarters* of US and European healthcare professionals saying they will continue using telemedicine after the COVID-19 crisis ends, governments are under pressure to make telemedicine a standard mode of care. Countries will need to establish consistent and clear legal frameworks for this technology in order to make permanent the temporary changes implemented to support telemedicine during the pandemic, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s latest report, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Case Study: Telemedicine – Physician Perspective”, reveals that 72%* of EU physicians were already using telemedicine to assess and treat their patients pre-COVID-19, while the adoption of telemedicine was lagging behind in US with 47% physicians using the technology.

Urte Jakimaviciute MSc, Senior Director of Market Research, comments: “Even though the technology existed, before the COVID-19 crisis, telemedicine was struggling to gain acceptance pre-pandemic, with barriers such as reimbursement, accessibility, lack of awareness, resistance to change and connectivity issues preventing uptake worldwide. However, COVID-19-provoked social distancing and lockdowns measures vastly reduced in-person engagements and forced the hand of regulatory bodies to make substantial legislative relaxations to ensure continuity of businesses and services delivery.”

Jakimaviciute continues: “Since 2018, the EU policies had been constantly highlighting the need to outline clear adoption, use and reimbursement strategies for evidence-based digital health services that could be fit-for-purpose to meet future patients’ needs. This could explain the higher rates of the EU physicians using telemedicine pre-COVID. Nevertheless, reimbursement schemes of telemedicine services remained ambiguous, and heterogeneous among different EU members, which still hinders its wider uptake.”

The COVID-19 pandemic made governments take significant steps to encourage more doctors and patients to turn to telemedicine. For example, US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently added 11 new virtual care services that will qualify for Medicare reimbursement. Prior to this, since March 2020, the agency has already added more than 135 virtual care services – more than double the number of services that was previously allowed – that could be paid when delivered by telehealth.

Jakimaviciute adds: “Incorporated as a standard medical service, telemedicine has a potential to solve many issues faced by countries around the world, including an ageing population, workforce shortages, the threat of chronic diseases and the increase in spending on public healthcare. What is still pending, however, is for countries to make the temporarily regulatory relaxations they made in the wake of COVID-19 permanent and establish consistent and clear legal framework for telemedicine.”

* A total of 267 specialists from the US, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Japan, including gastroenterologists, cardiologists, and pulmonologists, participated in online surveys that were fielded from May 27, 2020 to July 2, 2020.

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