To the editor:

Legislators and The Salem News please reconsider your support for making telemedicine a permanent part of the Bay State’s health care system. As a patient who just underwent major surgery during the coronavirus crisis, much of my pre- and post-surgical care was delivered via telephone in conjunction with other automations such as health care portals, text reminders, automatic prescription refills, voice mails, and automatic invoicing.

I am here to tell you that I was required to join seven different patient portals “for my convenience,” and experienced the confusion caused by seven different electronic systems not talking to each other or seemingly being referenced by the caregivers. Being of sound mind, I was able to navigate this maze and have a husband to deliver the much-needed human after care, but I shudder to think of what will become of elderly patients who live alone, are not computer illiterate or have impairments of speech, language, or hearing; or are simply forgetful. Much of the telemedicine care I received was very rushed, and did not fit in the context of their own automated systems, resulting in confusion, long wait times on hold and duplicated prescriptions. Please slow down this train until some needed patient/staff protections are put in place. Be sure that there are patient advocate experts on the approval panels and the promise of reduced costs to the health care system are passed along to the patients; not just to the bottom line of the health care conglomerates.

Additionally, I am very concerned about the impact of job loss caused by automation of health care to Boston and the North Shore. The Bureau of Labor Statistic states that health care accounts for 1 in 6 jobs across the commonwealth, and 1 in 5 jobs in Greater Boston. Additionally, those jobs are paid at a 22% higher wage than other occupations. Can we afford to lose a fifth of our high-paying jobs in the region?

I am old enough to remember local customer service representatives answering my service questions and local travel industry professionals who owned their own agencies and provided personalized services to their roster of clients. We lost many jobs as these occupations were centralized in call centers in the Midwest and then shipped overseas to call centers in India and Southeast Asia – calls became difficult because of satellite delays in transmission, heavy accents, lack of local knowledge and god-awful call wait times. One can easily predict our health care call centers will soon be shipped overseas as well, unless patient/staff protections are built into the system from the start.

We are starting down a very slippery slope which will shortly end in long waiting times on hold for medical help followed by severely decreased employment in Greater Boston. Let’s keep the good jobs here and uphold Boston’s prestigious position as the finest health care center in the world. As the old saying goes “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

Anne Sterling





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