More research needed on patient safety of telemedicine, experts say

While telemedicine adoption increases and providers note the clinical benefits of telemedicine, experts note the amount of research specifically on patient safety as it relates to telemedicine is lacking.

Stephen Agboola, MD, and Joseph Kvedar, MD, both with Connected Health, an innovation and IT-focused department of Boston-based Partners HealthCare, write in a perspective piece for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that telemedicine should be further studied for its effects on patient safety.

"Like any innovation that affects care delivery, telemedicine must face the same standards and thoughtful evaluation as traditional care," they write.

Some lingering concerns regarding telemedicine include using such services in inappropriate situations and determining the boundaries in which telemedicine care is acceptable. Additionally, they note many developers of smartphone-based telemedicine apps do not have medical training or don't involve clinicians in the development process.

However, the authors are not suggesting the industry stops using telemedicine services altogether. "Rather than stop the forward progress, we argue for a more thoughtful, continuous safety improvement process that could start from the moment of project conception," they write.

Such processes for enhancing patient safety in telemedicine include heightening awareness of patient safety throughout the telemedicine project life cycle, integrating safety testing into usability and efficacy trials, ensuring the latest data security and encryption systems are in place, increasing regulatory and professional organizations' involvement in creating guidelines and more.

"We need to balance our commitment to the ethical principle of nonmaleficence (do no harm) with the need to adopt technology-driven innovations in healthcare to enhance quality and safety," according to the authors. "Doing so should allow us to use these technologies to improve patient safety."

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