Over the last 12-24 months, we’ve seen legislatures and stakeholders in the Renal/Medical community place an increased emphasis in both telemedicine and home dialysis. As a result of the global pandemic, change and progress has been thrust upon patients and providers alike.
While the term ‘telemedicine’ sounds like an intimidating buzzword, all it means is an increased sense of safety and flexibility for patients, allowing them to be seen from the comfort of their own homes on a schedule that suits them best. No longer do patients have to worry about transportation to and from the doctor’s office, nor do they have to worry about additional safety measures from the virus. This is imperative for kidney failure patients who see a physician more often than other seniors. But we didn’t get here overnight. Below we will touch on milestones that laid the foundation for the rise of telemedicine for kidney disease patients.
One of the few objective successes of the President Trump era came in 2019 when he signed the Advancing American Kidney Health executive order, paving the way for an overhaul in the treatment process for end-stage renal disease patients. Not only did the President’s order shift resources towards Americans who have CKD and ESRD and how they’ll receive coverage from Medicare or Medicaid, it also paved the way to make access easier for patients to receive organ transplants, telemedicine visits, and home dialysis.
In the United States, most patients receive dialysis for end stage renal disease at a treatment facility, however, across the globe most patients receive their dialysis at home. However, there was a tangible shift in the last 12 months as a result of the pandemic
Home dialysis allowed patients to maintain safe social distancing protocols, while also allowing them to work from home and receive treatment on a schedule that best fits their needs. One of the top dialysis providers in the country reported a 25 percent increase in home dialysis training sessions in 2020 compared to the previous year, signalling that it could be the treatment option of the future.
Telemedicine also improves access to an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan for kidney disease patients in rural areas. Instead of requiring patients to drive multiple trips to a nearby hub where a provider and an accompanying dialysis treatment facility is located, now patients can schedule an appointment online, travel to a hub once to receive their access, and receive their treatment at home, allowing them to save time and money.
What the Future Holds
Home dialysis was undoubtedly a positive result for kidney disease patients, it wouldn’t be possible without telemedicine becoming more mainstream. By overcoming hurdles like ensuring that patients had access to the right technology, while also ensuring that HIPAA regulations were still being adhered to, there is an entirely new evolution in the way that physicians conduct instructional visits, and how patients receive care and treatment.
However, there are still obstacles to be overcome if telemedicine is going to be further streamlined into the mainstream of healthcare. For starters, high speed internet access needs to be consistent across the board, otherwise everything else is moot. Additionally, there needs to be somewhat of a regulatory overhaul in the way providers can practice across state lines. With the rise of telemedicine, we’re going to see a correlated rise in patients moving from their homes but still seeking treatment or diagnosis from a provider they are familiar with.
This is true with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease and diabetes, but also for mental illness and general counselling. With that reform, legislators and regulators should also consider the way that providers can prescribe medication via telemedicine and across certain state lines.
Regardless of its improving patient-to-provider dialogue and accessibility, or if it’s allowing one provider to relay previous findings to a specialist for a referral, the potential improvements that nephrology telemedicine has to the quality of life for healthcare patients is limitless. Because we’re only in the first few years of it becoming mainstream, the industry has only scratched the surface on the potential that telemedicine has.
Once insurance companies, regulators, and legislators get on board to make the process easier, experts expect to see telemedicine become the norm in both general practice and for specialists. If you have questions about how to transition to telemedicine or home dialysis, contact your nephrologist and ask them about the possibilities.
Susan Baker is a contributing author on behalf of InsuranceFAQ.net. Susan has been a freelance writer for five years and covers a wide array of topics ranging from Medicare insurance regulations to autoimmune disease health and wellness.