Telehealth has gained significant momentum in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for virtual care, causing a significant uptick in adoption. Usage skyrocketed throughout 2020 and well into 2021, with more and more patients exploring telehealth as an alternative to in-person care.
Since then, telehealth has continued to become a more permanent fixture in the continuum of care—a trend that will undoubtedly continue in 2023 and beyond. In fact, according to a recent survey, 76 percent of patients who have had a telehealth visit would prefer to continue doing so in the future.
As 2022 comes to a close, it’s a great time to assess the current telehealth landscape and make predictions on what’s to come next. Let’s discuss emerging telehealth trends and what we can expect from virtual care in the year ahead.
1. Extended Telehealth Reimbursement
On July 7, 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule for calendar year 2023. The new rule will extend Medicare reimbursement for certain telehealth services through the end of 2023, an extension following the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. It also expands flexibility for telehealth reimbursement for mental health, such as removing geographic restrictions for providers and allowing audio-only visits for the treatment of mental health disorders.
These provisions will allow more time for data collection and evaluation of permanent additions to the Medicare telehealth services list. It will also allow additional Medicare provider types to offer such services, likely expanding telehealth usage for plan members.
2. Expansion to New Medical Specialties
CMS’s rule also proposes adding a number of other services to the telehealth coverage list, incorporating medical specialties such as ophthalmology, behavioral health, dermatology, chronic pain management, dentistry and oral health, oncology, and more.
As a result, we’ll likely continue to see telehealth services being used across various medical specialties, expanding access beyond just primary care. We may also see a rise in telehealth services for both intensive and post-acute care transitions. For example, virtual visits for monitoring intensive care unit patients and following up after hospital discharges are becoming more commonplace in healthcare today.
3. More Widespread Insurance Coverage
An increasing number of commercial health plans are following CMS’s lead, recognizing telehealth as a way to offer patients convenient and affordable access to care. While most insurance companies have covered telehealth services in some form, this coverage was largely limited before the COVID-19 pandemic.
As virtual visits become increasingly accessible in the wake of the pandemic, more insurance companies will likely cover these services with fewer limitations to restrict usage. In fact, some are already beginning to offer “virtual-first” plans for their members in an effort to reduce barriers to care and lower costs for both employees and employers.
4. Solution for Physician Shortages
Physician shortages are on the rise—and they’re unlikely to slow down anytime soon. A report by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicted a shortage of between 37,800-124,000 physicians within 12 years in both primary and specialty care.
Healthcare leaders are now looking to telehealth as a potential solution for physician shortages. Virtual visits not only allow providers to work more efficiently and maximize their schedules but also open the door for more multidisciplinary, team-based care models. Physicians can monitor and oversee patients with support from other clinicians without every visit requiring a direct physician-to-patient experience.
5. Continued Investment in Technology
Now that telehealth trends point to it becoming a mainstay in modern healthcare, continued investments in virtual care technology can be expected. COVID-19 required healthcare practices and health systems to act quickly, leaving little time to explore various telehealth solutions on the market.
Rather than using free solutions that lack integration capabilities, security protocols, and must-have features, more healthcare organizations will invest in integrated solutions designed specifically with telehealth in mind.
For example, a telehealth solution that integrates with electronic health record systems gives providers access to all the tools and data they need in one central, secure location. Additionally, all-in-one telehealth solutions support end-to-end virtual care, allowing practices to manage everything virtually, from appointment scheduling and patient intake to virtual waiting rooms, post-visit follow-ups, and more.
Be Prepared for the Next Wave of Telehealth Innovation
The pandemic is (finally) in the rearview mirror; however, all telehealth trends point to virtual care being here to stay. COVID-19 kick-started a digital transformation that was bound to happen at some point, accelerating telehealth momentum for healthcare practices, patients, and providers. Are you prepared for the next wave of innovation?
Download our free guide to learn how virtual care can be fully integrated into your practice.