The rise of the internet and the increasing accessibility to high-speed data transfer and communications has had an incalculable impact on many aspects of everyday life. From altering the trajectory of entire industries to making a permanent home in the private lives of individuals, the importance of high-quality internet connectivity has become a necessity in the workplace and in the home. One industry in which this private and public overlap is critical is the advent of telemedicine.

Telemedicine has the potential to become a great tool in the healthcare industry and has already provided many benefits, such as more convenient and accessible patient care, care to those in remote areas and offering disaster management support. As technology improves, remote treatment and diagnoses becomes more feasible as a common medical practice. However, there are still hurdles to overcome in translating medical practices to a digital medium. For telemedicine practices to be fully effective, practitioners must have access to reliable and robust high-speed broadband services.

Upholding a Standard of Care

There has been much debate on the quality of remote medical consultation and treatment as compared to an in-person visit. While telemedicine can take place within the comfort and convenience of your own home, digital communication can reduce the range and depth of interaction between a doctor and patient. These difficulties can be exacerbated by a low-quality connection, resulting in poor image quality, stuttering or lagging video conferencing and other impediments in communicating information in real time. As telemedicine technologies have evolved, it is no longer enough to simply be able to “capture and share” patient information. The true benefit of a telemedicine session is the ability to accurately deliver real-time patient information between the patient and the practitioner. That real-time communication requires a strong backbone in the form of reliable connectivity.

Though the discussions surrounding the effectiveness of patient treatment can be highly subjective, there are also legal issues that can arise in relation to patient care. In 1996, the “Telemedicine Development Act of 1996” was passed in California, which imposed several requirements governing the delivery of health care services through telemedicine. Physicians are held to the same standard of care, and retain the same responsibilities of providing informed consent, ensuring the privacy of medical information, and any other duties associated with practicing medicine regardless of whether they are practicing via telehealth or an in-person visit. In some cases, a violation of the standard of care may result in a medical malpractice lawsuit. As telemedicine becomes more commonplace, practitioners must ensure their standard of care isn’t hampered by the limitations of their networks.

Ensuring Privacy and Protection

Privacy in healthcare has been a concern from the very beginning for modern medicine, arguably going as far back as the Hippocratic Oath. Privacy has become a major concern with the rise of the electronic storage, as information becomes easier to obtain and records are kept digitally. Naturally, telemedicine sits at the crossroads of medicine and technology. With the computerized administration of patient data, concerns about security and confidentiality have grown exponentially, in both keeping medical records, and in the recordable, two‐way audiovisual transmission of sensitive personal data between patients and medical professionals.

According to a study done by Transparency Market Research, while the global telehealth market is forecasted to reach $19.5 billion by 2025, cyber threats and the rise in data security may play a large part in limiting market growth. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) Act states that healthcare providers and telemedicine companies must adhere to relevant portions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the Security Rule when communicating sensitive information. HIPAA requires strict patient confidentiality, and PHI (Protected Health Information) violations can result in significant financial penalties as well as professional sanctions. While practitioners may do their utmost to protect their patient’s privacy in their day-to-day activities, precautious must be taken to ensure confidentiality is maintained in regard to technology. Just as digital medical records must be stored in a secure location, real-time communication and video conferencing must be protected from interference through a secure broadband connection.

Building a Better Future

Advances in communication technology are swift, complicated and often impossible to predict. While great advancements have already been made in the field of telemedicine, remote healthcare solutions have even greater potential to provide farther, faster, better service. At times, current medical practices may clash with current technological limitations and legal policies and regulations are often slow to catch up with the implications brought about by modern innovations. However, the demand for telemedicine is high; according to a 2017 study done by Advisory Board, 77% of patients would consider seeing a provider virtually, and 19% already have. As demand for high-quality telemedicine service continues to rise, Internet Service Providers will continue to evolve to meet that demand. The future of telemedicine will rely on easy access to a fast, reliable, secure network.