COVID-19 has caused a massive explosion in the adoption of telehealth across healthcare systems of all sizes and specialties. The U.S. telehealth market is expected to reach around $10 billion in 2020 with an 80 percent year-over-year growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the telehealth market is predicted to exceed $175 billion in just six years by 2026.
However, prior to the pandemic, 82 percent of consumers had yet to use telehealth and were hesitant to try it out. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security—or CARES Act—which was recently signed into law, has now made telehealth more accessible than ever before. During this time, we’ve learned much about telehealth and what it could potentially mean for the future of healthcare. From simplifying healthcare workflows to improving access to care in rural communities, telehealth has presented a myriad of benefits for patients and providers alike.
Here are some of the key things COVID-19 has taught us about telehealth services and the rise of virtual care:
1. Future demand for telehealth will be rapidly accelerated.
One thing is for sure: telehealth is here to stay. Despite telehealth’s slow start, COVID-19 social distancing efforts have significantly fast-tracked adoption. In the wake of the global pandemic, both patient and provider buy-in, reduced government restrictions, and new reimbursement rates that are the same as in-person visits will likely fuel increased demand for telehealth services.
Post-COVID-19, a number of healthcare organizations are planning to invest more in telehealth solutions to increase familiarity and drive growth. The lessons learned during the health crisis will ultimately help providers build and refine their telehealth strategies for the days ahead.
2. Patients and providers alike will buy into the use of telehealth services.
A few years ago, telehealth was not much more than a novel possibility. Enter COVID-19, and telehealth adoption increased tenfold. Amidst the pandemic, telehealth services have proven the optimal alternative to providing healthcare while limiting exposure to coronavirus. It’s also a relatively inexpensive option for patients with concerns regarding the rising cost of healthcare.
Now, two-thirds of survey respondents say that COVID-19 has increased their willingness to try telehealth in the future—and it’s not only reshaping patient opinions. Clinicians alike are recognizing the opportunities telehealth presents, such as simplified workflows and increased patient satisfaction.
3. Telehealth services help simplify provider workflows.
In the past, providers have been hesitant to explore telehealth services. Like anything new, there were concerns to address and workflows to adapt. That said, the onset of COVID-19 prompted many physicians to try telehealth—and now they’re recognizing the benefits that come with it, as well as possible shortcomings.
For many providers, a quick telehealth fix to meet COVID-19 demand left them with products that were inherently inefficient. After this test run, they are all the wiser and doing their due diligence to find a better solution.
Unlike Zoom or FaceTime, providers are realizing they need a telehealth solution with rich features such as:
- A virtual waiting room that indicates how long the next patient has been waiting, the reason for their visit, and how many more patients they have coming up.
- The capability for patients to confirm insurance and complete necessary forms prior to seeing the provider.
- Adaptive, enterprise-grade video that works within stringent firewalls and security policies while delivering HD quality video—all with no plugins.
- Essential resources providers need during a virtual exam with easy access to patient profiles, and the ability to chart, take notes, and review and send attachments.
- Multiparty video that lets providers bring additional people — interpreters, family members, caregivers — to the visit.
- The ability to send prescriptions to pharmacies nationwide, collect patient payment directly after the visit, or submit a detailed medical chart for reimbursement.
In terms of workflow efficiencies, telehealth allows providers to stay in place at their workstation with everything they need at their fingertips. No changing rooms and the interruptions that can happen along the way.
4. Telehealth will expand access to care in rural areas.
In many rural areas, the nearest physician’s office or hospital is several miles away. On average, patients in rural areas are 17 minutes from the nearest hospital, while some face up to 34 minutes of travel time. A recent survey also found that nearly one-quarter of rural adults were unable to get the care they needed due to challenges with physical access.
Fortunately, the rise of virtual care may help combat the issue. Telehealth services allow providers to expand access to quality healthcare in rural, often underserved communities. Telehealth is also a more cost-effective option for rural hospitals and providers, which often face more financial challenges than those in urban locations.
Looking Ahead: What’s Next for Telehealth?
So, what exactly does this mean for the future of telehealth services? It’s safe to assume that the momentum will continue growing in the months and years to come. COVID-19 opened the door and revealed the potential—now it’s up to providers and health systems to invest in virtual care delivery and do what they can to eliminate barriers to telehealth adoption.
For many, that means looking for ways to educate patients on telehealth services and make them aware of the option. Others need access to the right technology to help make telehealth a permanent service offering for patients. As healthcare organizations adapt workflows and explore telehealth services, one thing is clear: telehealth will play a vital role in the future of healthcare.