By René Seifert, co-head of TrueProfile.io
If you’ve yet to come across the term ‘telemedicine’, it’s defined as follows: ‘Telemedicine is the use of technology to virtually administer medical advice, prognosis, and support from a qualified practitioner to a telehealth patient.’ With the lockdown of physical locations and the postponement of healthcare appointments deemed ‘unessential,’ telemedicine boomed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and replaced typical face-to-face healthcare services.
Yet this rise is not just a quick-fix as a stop-gap for the world to re-adjust to the effects of the pandemic, but rather it is a solution that is very much here to stay. A Forrester report estimates that there will be 20 million telemedicine care visits in the UK alone by the end of 2020. These virtual care services will and have become an accepted alternative to the traditional methods of delivering healthcare.
As with any rapid technological advancements there are however, potential risks, barriers and challenges. As telemedicine continues to grow throughout 2021, it will be important to pay closer attention to concerns around patient privacy and safety. Providers must ensure they put patient safety first by ensuring they hire verified medical professionals and by investing in the right technology to facilitate telemedicine. Blockchain has a role to play in both of these key elements in ensuring patient safety.
Addressing the privacy issue
Although telemedicine has truly taken off over the last year, it will still be the case that many will be hesitant to adopt the technology on the ground that they want to protect their health-related data. As evidenced in the national rollout of the test and trace app, there are global concerns around how health data is being used, with fears that private information is being used as part of a wider surveillance infrastructure.
However, privacy concerns themselves are perfectly understandable, even more so when it comes to telemedicine. Telemedicine goes further than simply connecting patient and healthcare professionals via video call, sensitive data and patient information are key parts of telemedicine. Some telemedicine services allow patients and doctors to share and store sensitive information such as test results and x-rays, meaning the right technology must be in place to ensure these records are protected.
Blockchain makes an ideal candidate for this role. The secure decentralised data storage of blockchain ensures that no central party can manipulate and control its data, as every member must agree to its validity and can check the history of record changes. Through storing patient data securely, telemedicine will be regarded as a trustable tool for healthcare, as data privacy continues to take precedent.
The need for verification
No different from traditional, in-person healthcare environments, a virtual service must also guarantee patients are seen by verified and vetted professionals. Telemedicine providers cannot overlook this procedure and potentially risk patient safety as a result. Placing verification at the heart of proceedings and hiring credible, qualified professionals will greatly improve the standard of telemedicine services.
With so much emphasis now being placed on patient wellbeing, innovations such as blockchain-powered verification have gathered plenty of momentum in recent years across different sectors. For example, a blockchain-powered professional document verification platform ensures candidates can upload and verify private documents, such as a passport or university degree, without healthcare recruiters worrying about the legitimacy of the documents. The documents can then be viewed and checked against the blockchain without fear of tampering or the legitimacy of the document.
Utilising blockchain technology during the verification process can greatly streamline the process and ease the pressure away from recruiters and healthcare bodies. Blockchain verification eliminates the hassle of verification requests and the admin which comes with it. For candidates, once their credentials have been verified by the blockchain, they no longer have to worry about lengthy verification processes as the document is now saved on the blockchain.
Through the use of blockchain-enabled verification, it will be the qualified and verified candidates who will be considered for telemedicine roles. As a result, patient and co-worker welfare can be guaranteed.
Patient safety comes first
With telemedicine looking set to stay once the pandemic has passed, providers must ensure a reliable and safe service is on offer as more of us adopt its services. For telemedicine to successfully grow in the long-term, patient safety and data security has to be guaranteed. Blockchain technology will provide the building blocks to helping achieve this, ensuring the telemedicine sector goes from strength-to-strength in 2021 and cements its place in the future of healthcare services.