Telehealth is here to stay, said participants of a March 12 Axios forum on how technology is impacting the health care system. However, that doesn’t mean telehealth is without its problems, and the participants separately warned of concerns related to privacy, health disparities, and connectivity going forward.
1) Patient Data. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) explained how increased use of telehealth has the potential to allow for misuse of patient data. He warned an insurer could hypothetically pull data from a smartwatch belonging to a person in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and increase premiums based on what the data reveals about the person’s movement. Alternatively, the Senator theorized a health care provider could use the same smartwatch data to stage an early medical intervention. Thus, Cassidy emphasized a need to ensure health data is being used to help patients and not for nefarious reasons.
2) Health Disparities. Additionally, Deneen Vojta, MD (UnitedHealth Group) pointed out how telehealth has laid bare the extent of health disparities in America. Moving forward, she predicted providers will “focus relentlessly” on addressing disparities by analyzing health data and encouraging more training on data science. On a side note, Vojta also suggested policymakers standardize quality reporting for telehealth encounters.
3) Fragmentation. While telehealth has made strides over the past year, Ryan Panchadsaram (US Digital Response) said there is still room for improvement. Much of the telehealth ecosystem remains fragmented, and Panchadsaram stressed a need to ensure more systems can work with each other by promoting interoperability and transparency. To break the logjam on flow of health data, Panchadsaram recommended implementing a unique patient identifier, which could be made voluntarily to preemptively address privacy concerns.