Telemedicine Evolves Thanks to New Tech and the Pandemic

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Telemedicine Evolves Thanks to New Tech and the Pandemic

It’s been almost a couple of years since telemedicine skyrocketed in popularity, largely thanks to the pandemic-driven demand for telehealth services amid calls for social distancing. It has allowed patients to consult with their doctors and seek treatment without having to risk exposure to themselves and their healthcare providers.

While it’s no secret that telemedicine is here to stay, as noted by Forbes, its use continues to evolve, from being a tool for merely addressing the public health crisis necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, to a core part of the future of healthcare delivery. It’s an inspiring time for the entire healthcare industry, especially as more technological breakthroughs are realized in the telehealth arena.

Even when the pandemic was raging, leading to widespread public health emergencies, the role of telemedicine in healthcare and society at large was constantly evolving. Get this: last year, around 26% of healthcare organizations, including acute, post-acute, and ambulatory care providers, noted that roughly 25% of their patients had used telemedicine. That figure dipped significantly, but not surprisingly, from around 32% of organizations reporting at least a quarter of their patients did embrace telehealth in the pandemic-filled 2020.

The high use and popularity of telemedicine during the pandemic have certainly proved the indispensable value of affordable, equitable, accessible, and high-quality healthcare delivered via telehealth. It has also shown clearly that both patients and providers want telemedicine and will continue to use it post pandemic.

However, the big question is: how will telemedicine evolve post Covid? Will telehealth increase its pertinent role in bridging the gap between healthcare demand and supply going forward? Today, we’re going to take a quick look at the future of telemedicine and how it’s evolving off the back of the pandemic and advancements in telehealth technologies.

Healthcare providers are tying up loose ends of telehealth integration.

Although the growth of telehealth adoption is significantly lower than witnessed during the early days of the pandemic, the overall outlook of the telemedicine market is more promising than ever. In fact, the global telemedicine market is expected to see impressive growth at a 30.5% CAGR, with revenue anticipated to reach roughly $61.4 billion by 2028, according to Bloomberg.

Despite this, doctors, clinicians, and other healthcare providers are still in the process of tying up some loose ends of telemedicine integration into their day-to-day practices. More importantly, they’re trying to figure out how best to incorporate telehealth with other aspects and forms of healthcare delivery. Instead of thinking of telehealth as a replacement for traditional care delivery, providers see it as a tool, or channel, in their multi-channel approach to healthcare. 

Going forward, industry leaders, health system managers, and healthcare providers believe telemedicine use will evolve to target specific types of care, patients, and conditions. And as such, it’ll cause a seismic shift when it comes to reimbursement and preparedness of the providers for the future of healthcare. But first, healthcare providers need to find the sweet spot for telemedicine in the grand scheme of things.

Telemedicine’s targeted use cases

Health systems leaders anticipate that virtual care and virtual visits will account for around a quarter of patient visits in the next half-decade. That is because many healthcare providers and leaders have realized that certain therapies can be addressed effectively through telemedicine. Of course, highly specialized medical care areas like quaternary and tertiary care will still require in-person visits to healthcare facilities.

Telemedicine has made more inroads in certain areas of healthcare than others. For one thing, mental healthcare is one area where telemedicine has had a massive impact, and will continue to see high utilization moving forward. Last year, for example, telemedicine use in mental care delivery soared from about 59% in August to slightly over 61% the next month. 

High telemedicine utilization for mental health care will do more than just provide access to remote parts of the country and regions where the availability of mental health providers is limited. Telehealth channels also offer a heightened sense of privacy, reducing the stigma of getting mental health providers’ help. This is particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with increasing mental health problems among teens and vulnerable communities, such as seniors.

Follow-up care is another targeted use case for telemedicine that has seen immense traction in recent months. Traditionally, patients usually make long and painful trips to the hospital for just a ten-minute follow-up appointment with a surgeon, clinician, or primary care provider. Telehealth has made it possible for providers and clinicians to conduct meaningful follow-up visits via video or phone.

Telemedicine has (and will continue to be) a game-changer in the clinical arena of remote patient monitoring (RPM), as well. With telemedicine, remote patient monitoring has enormous potential to revolutionize chronic disease management. For instance, doctors, dieticians, and endocrinologists who treat patients with heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes can use connected technologies to better monitor and care for them. And, as reported by Pranjal Bora of Digital Authority Partners, there’s no shortage of new technologies to power the future of telehealth.

For example, when a diabetic patient does come for an in-person visit, their primary care provider or endocrinologist has a continuous and holistic view of their vitals, such as glucose levels, A1C levels, and insulin dosage. As such, this can truly change essential aspects of chronic care delivery, such as medication adherence and progress monitoring.

However you look at it, the telehealth-use opportunities are plenty and varied. They hold great potential for better data collection, better evidence tracking, and ultimately better patient outcomes.

Evolving reimbursement landscape

New reimbursement models will have to be designed and implemented to support an evolving virtual-first care environment. So far, we have witnessed the arrival of virtual-centric health coverage plans, an enabling trend we’ll likely see continue moving forward. 

In fact, to account for the recent Coronavirus crisis, Medicare and over 22 states have created new policies for, or expanded coverage of, telemedicine services—and most private payers followed in their footsteps.

These virtual-first health plans are designed especially for hybrid healthcare delivery systems, which cater to both in-person and virtual visits. Indeed, various health insurance providers, from small startups such as Oscar Health to large private payers like Cigna, have prioritized virtual visits.

Wrap-up

Looking into the future, the virtual-first care delivery environment is here to stay, and healthcare providers have to jump on the telehealth bandwagon (if they haven’t already). They have to explore ways to embrace new telemedicine technologies in a fashion that’ll enhance care equity and access.

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