Growth During A Quarantine: Telemedicine and the Coronavirus

By: Esha Deokar

How an industry is growing during the spread of a deadly virus

What is Telemedicine?

While COVID-19 –– a type of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China and has since spread worldwide –– has caused many businesses to cancel outgoing trips and airlines to lose massive amounts of revenue, many online business are booming. Similar to the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, the coronavirus has caused e-commerce, and especially the telemedicine industry, to take off. In China, doctors are too busy to see a plethora of patients, and hoards of them are being turned away from hospitals. In addition, due to the forced quarantine, many people are not allowed to leave their homes in fear of further spreading the virus. Thus enters the telemedicine industry, which allows patients to speak to doctors or other professionals about their symptoms and health conditions without leaving their home. The virtual care that telemedicine provides limits the spread of the disease, as well as provides patients with a convenient way to receive advice from a healthcare professional. For coronavirus especially, since there is no known cure, the best way to curb the spread of the disease is to limit exposure. Hospitals full of the ill may be counterintuitive to the spread of the disease.

Telemedicine in China

As e-commerce continues to grow in the Chinese markets, online healthcare seems to also look upwards. Richard Liu began JD.com, an e-commerce platform with a separate leg known as JD Health. JD Health can prescribe medication, sell medical devices, contact lenses, and conduct gene testing. The limits of the website are few and far between, which is shown in their growth revenue since the start of the virus. The estimate for China’s online healthcare market was projected to be close to $2 billion, but since the virus has jumped much closer to $3 billion. Other companies also account for this growth; Ping An Good Doctor and WeDoctor are other companies that account for much of the revenue.

There has been some legislative pushback in China about what these companies are allowed to do, as well as what their tasks are as “healthcare providers.” However, due to the coronavirus, legislation has shifted into the hands of these companies. A health ministry directive released a report in February that allows telemedicine companies to treat patients to the best of their ability. Thus, the affected areas, such as Wuhan, are relying on telemedicine to aid their citizens, even authorizing reimbursements for this type of unusual medical care. Ultimately, in China, these companies are operating with much more leniency and mobility than they would have without the spread of the virus.

Telemedicine in the U.S.

For a couple of weeks, the U.S. has been struggling with the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, unlike China, our legislation moves much more slowly and warns against the telemedicine industry more than other countries. Although some health officials believe that telemedicine is an industry that is here to stay, Congress has created some blocks to its growth that can stifle our own economy and harm our citizens. China does not have our same healthcare system; due to various different systems, from private to federal payers and everything in between, it is hard to find where telemedicine can fit. Medical licensing and reimbursement policies also differ from provider to provider and plan to plan, another area that creates a difficulty for the future of telemedicine.

Nancy Messonnier, the director for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, pressed the U.S. into the telemedicine industry, which would hamper the spread of the disease and increase treatment options. In addition to treating patients, if the U.S. were to loosen the regulations or specify the terms of telemedicine, the documentation of the outbreak would become more streamlined and we would grow more accountable. Dr. Todd J Veneto of Modern Healthcare published an article urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to lift healthcare restrictions during a public emergency, something a lot of public medical professionals are beginning to do as this crisis grows more dire.

How the Industry is Growing

In terms of economics, as other industries such as fashion and travel are shutting down, telemedicine is just starting to rise. If Congress were to lift restrictions or create a more telemedicine-free environment, it may act as a small buffer for the economy during the outbreak. Currently, a telemedicine company known as Intermountain is known to have responded to 1,000 consultation requests and dispensed medical advice to over 4,000 patients. Another public company known as ExamMed hopes to see their patients online during the time of quarantine through their new telemedicine platform. Dan Edmonds-Waters, Exam Med’s Chief Revenue Officer, wants to ensure not only the safety of the patients but the best, and most affordable, access to doctors online. Furthermore, even though there are some restrictions, other companies such as Teledoc, a telemedicine company, and Anthem, an insurance company, are seeing upticks in their stocks. If the U.S. government were to lift their restrictions on telemedicine even furthermore, these upticks may turn into surges and provide the economy with the support it needs during this trying time.

What’s To Come of Telemedicine?

As an industry, telemedicine has slowly been growing around the world, at different paces and speeds everywhere. Currently, as it grows in China the most, companies are seeing it largely affecting their revenue. In the U.S., if Congress were to lift some restrictions during this emergency or find a way to find telemedicine into the increasingly complicated sphere of healthcare law, the benefits –– both socially and economically –– could be enormous. An economic benefit that researchers and doctors cannot quantify is the ability to stay quarantined and still use telemedicine, curbing the spread of the disease and saving the world from future months of crisis.

Works Cited:

Image Source: The Economist, 2020, https://www.economist.com/business/2020/03/02/millions-of-chinese-cooped-up-and-anxious-turn-to-online-doctors, Photograph

Virk, Samant. (2020) Coronavirus and Telemedicine: How It Can Help Practices and Patients with Communicable Diseases. Medical Economics. Retrieved from https://www.medicaleconomics.com/news/coronavirus-and-telemedicine-how-it-can-hel-practices-and-patients-communicable-diseases

Ducharme, Jamie. (2020) The Coronavirus Outbreak Could Finally Make Telemedicine Mainstream in the U.S. Time Magazine. Retrieved from https://time.com/5793535/coronavirus-telemedicine-telehealth/

Farr, Christina. (2020) Coronavirus Could Be a Boon for Telemedicine, As Health Industry Hopes to Keep ‘Worried Well’ Out of the Hospital. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/03/coronavirus-could-be-boon-for-telemedicine-to-stop-ospital-crowding.html

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