Telemedicine has emerged as an important new tool for doctors and counselors to engage patients in improving their healthcare. It’s been great for patients, too, giving them the ability to connect with health care providers quickly, conveniently, and affordably. Even with all these benefits, some people may have questions about whether telemedicine is really a safe way to deliver medical and mental health care.
How Can I Trust a Provider I Haven’t Met?
People sometimes hesitate to trust someone they haven’t met in person. In some cases, you will have met the provider in their office before the remote encounter. In others, you can easily check the credentials of the doctor or counselor online.
For example, if you wanted to get help from a therapist through BetterHelp.com, you could go on their site, choose a provider, and get their name and credentials before you set up a videoconference. If you still weren’t satisfied, you could look up their licensing and certifications by doing a search on a site like NBCC’s Counselor Verify.
In a sense, though, the idea that you have ample reason to trust someone you’ve met face to face and not someone you meet in a remote session may be a bit outdated. Most people regularly connect online with people they haven’t met. Besides that, meeting someone in person isn’t necessarily enough to guarantee that they are knowledgeable and reliable. And, when you connect with someone on a videoconferencing platform, you still see their face and mannerisms and hear their voice.
Isn’t It Dangerous to Handle Emergencies Remotely?
Emergency situations could get tricky if they were treated through telemedicine. Certain conditions need hands-on care. Any situation where the person is not in physical or mental control of themselves would require the health care provider to be able to do things for them physically that they can’t do for themselves.
However, telemedicine doctors and counselors understand the limitations of teleconferencing. They have specific guidelines about what they treat and don’t treat. If the situation is one that requires more direct attention, they call for an ambulance or refer to a local clinic. On the other hand, getting medical help to people early on can prevent a medical or mental health condition from turning into an emergency.
What about Privacy and Confidentiality?
Confidentiality for telemedicine is similar to that in the health industry at large. Telehealth providers must follow HIPAA rules concerning how and with whom they share your information. If you talk to a doctor or counselor in a videoconferencing call, they aren’t allowed to divulge what has gone on in that session unless you give them the authority to do so.
Data security is getting more advanced for telemedicine services and will continue to become stronger. Already, they use authentication and data encryption to keep transmissions secure. Further work in the field will find ways to deal with privacy on the patient’s end, removing security risks that come with using a mobile device in a setting that’s less controlled than a doctor’s office.
So, what’s the bottom line? Is telemedicine safe enough to rely on for your health care needs? Each person must weigh the risks and benefits for themselves. As they do, many will conclude that telemedicine is the right solution to meet their physical and mental health needs in a variety of situations.