The industry of virtual health appointments, otherwise known as telemedicine, is booming as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic in the UK, GP surgeries urged patients not to come into their practice to prevent the potential spread of the virus and health secretary Matt Hancock advised that consultations should be done by telemedicine where possible.
Since then, there’s been a dramatic increase in the use of telemedicine, with a survey by the Royal College of GPs found that six in 10 appointments in mid-July were conducted by telephone. Additionally, a Forrester report indicates that virtual care visits will reach 20 million this year. With a second national lockdown, a vaccine still some months away from being rolled out to the public and with the increase we’ve already seen in telemedicine, it’s an approach to primary care that is here to stay.
However, with rapid technological advancements comes potential risks, and it’s important that safety and privacy concerns are abated. Providers must ensure they put patient safety first by ensuring they hire verified medical professionals and by investing in the right technology to facilitate telemedicine. Blockchain has a role to play in both of these key elements in ensuring patient safety.
Verifying medical professionals
As with a physical healthcare environment, a virtual one facilitated by telemedicine needs to provide patients with a safe environment. The key to achieving this is through the right medical professionals. It’s critical for healthcare professionals to be properly vetted before allowing them to practice on a telemedicine platform and therefore providers must ensure they source verified, credible healthcare professionals to be assured of their skills and qualifications.
With this in mind, an innovation that is gathering pace is blockchain-powered verification. For example, using a blockchain-enabled professional document verification platform can enable candidates to securely upload and verify private documents, such as passport or university certificates, providing them with a form of portable credentials. NHS recruiters and healthcare regulators can then view and verify candidates’ credentials against the blockchain.
From a recruiter’s standpoint, this can help to drastically streamline the verification process by eliminating the continual churn of verification requests on employers and educational institutions every time a healthcare professional applies for a new role. For candidates themselves, the process is also expedited as their credentials only need to be verified once before being saved on the blockchain. They can then share this with potential employers at any point during their careers, rather than having to be verified each time when applying for a role.
By using blockchain-enabled professional document verification, telemedicine providers can eliminate the risk of hiring unqualified, fraudulent individuals, ensuring that patients and co-workers are protected.
Overall, where it might have taken the NHS anything up to six months to verify an overseas nurses’ credentials, the latest blockchain-enabled online platforms remove these obstacles in one fell swoop. This offers providers a way to significantly reduce the time-to-hire by up to 20-30 days through giving healthcare recruiters access to a bank of prescreened and verified professionals who are ready to down tools and move where they are needed most.
Protection of patient data
Alongside patient safety, there is also a concern over patient privacy and because telemedicine is much more than simply a video call, providers should also be placing data protection at the top of their agendas. The topic of using blockchain technology to protect patients’ medical records is not a new one. However, it isn’t something that has yet gained traction has healthcare institutions struggle to digitise and keep pace with technology advancements.
Some telemedicine services allow patients and doctors to share and store sensitive information such as test results and x-rays, so it’s imperative that the right technology is in place to ensure these records are protected.
This is where the use of blockchain should be implemented, decentraliing the storage of data so that no central party has control over its content, and nobody can tamper with the records because every member has to agree to its validity and can check the history of record changes.
With telemedicine increasing at a rapid pace, providers must ensure they scale responsibly in order to maintain a reliable service. While the focus previously was all about getting a service up and running as quickly as possible, in order to continue appointments for patients, the focus now needs to be on implementing a long-term solution with the patient at the heart of the service. When it comes to healthcare, patient safety should always come first and blockchain technology has a clear role to play in many aspects of telemedicine.