The field of telehealth has experienced tremendous growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to COVID, telehealth made up less than 1% of primary care visits. After COVID, it increased to a whopping 43.5% of primary care visits. Let’s take a closer look at how telehealth has become a prominent tool for healthcare and treatment.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth services are health-related services offered through electronic means. It covers doctor appointments held over Zoom, counseling, and remote admission. The reason it’s become so prevalent in 2020 and 2021 is that it doesn’t require face-to-face contact, which many have been trying to avoid to safeguard public health and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Telehealth increased access to healthcare services during the emergency period of the pandemic when many urgent care offices and clinics were closed to the public or operated under limited hours. Thanks to the availability of telehealth providers, healthcare workers were able to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.
Here are some recent numbers and trends related to telehealth:
- Most telehealth patients were between 18-49 years of age (69%) and identified as female (63%).
- From January to early March 2020, 93% of telehealth visits were unrelated to COVID.
- During the last three weeks of March, COVID-related visits grew from less than 5% to 16.2%.
- 69% of people who sought treatment via telehealth held their appointment at home.
- 26% of patients were advised to seek follow-up care.
The Future of Telehealth
Telehealth isn’t going away anytime soon. Now that more people are aware that they have the option to meet some of their healthcare needs without a visit to the doctor’s office, usage should continue to rise.
The president of VirtualMed Staff, Jack Williams, said, “Continued growth in telehealth will be sustained for years to come. The common thread will be easier access to healthcare, which will generate confidence and drive growth.”
In fact, with its ever-increasing importance, patients may even begin to choose their healthcare providers based on the telehealth services they provide. And why not? When there’s a chance to avoid being in the lobby of the doctors’ office with other sick patients, people will take it. Telehealth options allow patients to avoid wait times and be seen in the comfort of their own homes.
Because of this increased interest, hospitals that don’t embrace this technological advance could begin to see a decline in revenue and number of patients, while providers who are prepared for the future of telehealth should see those numbers improve. This will be a huge help when it comes to bouncing back from the havoc COVID wreaked on hospitals across the United States.
Telehealth will also prove beneficial for preventative care. With wider access to healthcare, follow-up care is more convenient and specialists are easier to contact for a diagnosis. Because of this, hospitals will most likely see a lower number of readmissions, complications, and inpatient stays, which will reduce the need for more expensive treatments.
And patients with focused care will have less difficulty seeing specialists for treatment. Instead of having to wait months for a specialty appointment, a specialist can simply be called into a Zoom meeting and the patient can be seen immediately. Not only does this improve the patient experience, but it also prevents the hospital from having to hire someone to work on-site.
A Major Step Toward Accessibility
Since telehealth allows for accessibility in ways that healthcare has struggled with before—for example, allowing people with disabilities to consult with a doctor from home—it’s crucial that the service is widely available for everyone. The industry is taking steps to make sure that happens.
For example, Amazon is expanding its health services. Instead of providing the Amazon Care service to its own employees exclusively, the company plans on giving other large companies access as well. Users of this service can have access to video calls and in-app messaging with doctors, and patients who live in the greater Seattle area can access in-person treatment and get prescriptions delivered right to their door.
In addition, Congress is considering expanding telehealth coverage related to mental health and substance abuse. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said, “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, substance-abuse-related mortalities have drastically increased and the opioid public health crisis continues to worsen. It’s critical that we ensure that Americans struggling with these issues have access to safe, effective, life-saving treatments. This legislation will expand access to Medically Assisted Treatments and eliminate barriers to important behavioral health and community-based therapies. Access to care is the key to solving any medical issue—the substance-use epidemic is no different.”
Telehealth is Here to Stay
We’re still learning all of the ways that telehealth can benefit patients and practitioners, but it’s clear that telehealth services will see wider use in coming years. As companies and researchers continue to develop more effective ways to integrate telehealth into patient care and legislation and regulations are put in place to ensure its affordability, we’ll see an increasing number of people benefit from the services that telehealth can provide.