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Telehealth: The risks and rewards for healthcare providers

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped most Americans’ daily lives, from where and how they work to how they receive their health-related services. Healthcare professionals and organizations have also adapted to provide that care.

The rise of telehealth is a significant development as doctors quickly offered virtual appointments with patients via Zoom or similar teleconferencing software. Online medical care may be here to stay, but some experts warn that along with the convenience comes risk.

The “floodgates” are open

While virtual medical appointments peaked early on in the pandemic, on average, nearly one out of every five doctor visits are online today. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company surveyed patients and providers over telehealth and found these key takeaways:

  • Virtual appointments account for 17% of medical visits across all specialties
  • 40% of patients say they’ll continue using telehealth in the future
  • 84% of physicians offer virtual appointments
  • 57% plan to continue offering online care options

This is happening while the U.S. transitions to value-based health care, which includes improving the quality of care, increasing efficiency and lowering costs.

What are the risks?

Experts believe the genie is out of the bottle and predict a greater integration of telehealth, even for patients with chronic disorders, such as heart disease, diabetes and behavioral health challenges. The use of FDA-approved devices will also likely grow to monitor patients’ statuses.

But many urge healthcare organizations and insurers to scrutinize the potential risk for medical malpractice. Many expect more lawsuits resulting from delayed or missed diagnosis, misdiagnosis and the increase in patients using wearable devices resulting from telehealth. Physicians likely recognize the difficulty of certain diagnosis via telehealth and must strive to give patients the same attention during a virtual appointment as they would during an in-office visit.

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