Despite slow-start, gastroenterology stands to benefit from telemedicine — 4 insights

Where telemedicine is proving essential in other specialties, it's yet to catch on in gastroenterology, according to an editorial in The Lancet.

What you should know:

1. Up to 9 percent of gastroenterologists reported using telemedicine, the second lowest-rate among internal medicine specialties, according to the American Medical Association's 2016 Patient Practice Benchmark Survey. However, the chronic nature of digestive diseases makes gastroenterology a prime candidate for telemedicine.

2. The editorial points to a lack of robust clinic evidence as one of the reasons for lagging telemedicine adaptation. According to a 2018 systematic review published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, clinical studies quantifying telemedicine are lacking. Researchers found only 20 studies focusing on clinical outcomes.

3. Concerns over providers missing or misunderstanding patient information or fears related to the out-of-pocket cost of telemedicine care could also be slowing adaptation. However, modern-technology provides high definition imaging. In the U.S., several states have introduced private-payer parity laws for telemedicine, which require payers to cover telemedicine consults.

4. The Lancet's editorial staff urges providers to see the many benefits of telemedicine and to view telemedicine offerings as supplementing an existing practice and not a replacement.

"Telemedicine — when used effectively — is likely to streamline and improve the quality of patient care and reduce healthcare costs. Telehealth technologies are still relatively new, and further research into their effectiveness … in digestive diseases is essential. … But against a backdrop of rising incidence of chronic disease and increasingly strained resources, telemedicine for digestive diseases has great potential," the editorial concludes.

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