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Is Telemedicine Having Growing Pains?

  • 4 min read

 For many years telemedicine was pitched as the new wave of Health Care Service. Where you can actually get more health care resources or consultation without having to go in person, or to a medical facility. Telehealth or telemedicine has become very popular during the pandemic. When people didn’t want to go in person, especially a medical facility, one of the areas where Telehealth or Telemedicine was thought to be a big potential was in the mental health arena as you could do it from the privacy of your on home.

 Mental health almost by definition you don’t actually have to see someone in person, or to take their blood. It is not necessary to  take their temperature, check their heartbeat.  It’s almost by definition a more conversational process; so there are many online companies that popped up that presented Mental Health Online treatment. 

The problem is a lot of these companies got too big. They grew too fast so there were problems and this Wall Street Journal article talks about some of them that maybe is leaving a bad taste in the mouth of people who try to access these services.  A couple examples that are featured in this article are cerebral. One of them is global, you know the short story is they’ve raised hundreds of millions of dollars in Venture Capital money and they had some high profile spokespeople. They launched with high expectations. In fact one had a value of 5 billion within a couple years after starting out, then they got into trouble because they started prescribing drugs that maybe were over prescribed or abused and they were talking about profitability. Because of prescribing these drugs right now they have some investigations because they may be prescribed too much. So much in fact that two large prescription providers Walmart and CVS will no longer fill their prescriptions because they don’t think that it’s good enough of a legitimate referral to be giving out these kinds of drugs.

In one case, a major company was run by a former Facebook product manager with no medical training right and they advertised on social media and they had the same thing happen. Walmart and CVS won’t fill their prescriptions.  A lot of these companies were thought to be disruptors meaning that they want to do things in a different way, a way that’s more efficient. Well one of the things that was a good quote in the article is a “internal insider from one of these companies said it’s one thing to be disruptive but there’s a reason that medicine is encumbered by regulations.”. They’re dealing with people’s lives right?  One of the companies said they aim to provide low threshold and  access to medication. Well medication might need a higher threshold access because it’s important to make sure that there’s no side effects or other problems with giving out some of these drugs.  

The last example is Talk Space. You’ve seen those ads, it is therapy consultations, counseling by Telehealth to work through anxiety and family relationship problems. It is easy to sign up for but a lot of the customers found that it was a little bit off-putting.  In one case the therapists looked unprofessional, he said the therapist switched between rooms, ended up on a couch with the kitchen in the background, people walking behind them. That’s not really private or professional.  Another example is that the therapist was a passenger in a car. They stopped for gas, could hear the driver get out,  could see the gas pumps and other customers.  Doesn’t seem like a place where a therapist can listen to a client intently. These consultations were not being done in a very secure, and closed environment without distractions.  Just like they ask you to do as a patient and part of the reason is that because there was an increased demand during the pandemic.  The pandemic lowered the bar for training for some of these therapists, counselors, and even other medical personnel. There’s a big potential for Telehealth and telemedicine, but the fast growth may have created some problems that have to be worked through before it becomes a more mainstream and accepted type of way to obtain remote healthcare. 


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