Healthcare, as we know it, has transformed in real-time. Healthcare and technology collided as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry shifted from an in-person experience to virtual delivery as telemedicine became an essential practice for providing care to patients across the country. Telemedicine is not a new practice. It took the pandemic forcing the medical community to adapt during the first half of 2020 to bring it to the forefront of the healthcare industry. The extreme conditions the community faced illuminated the benefits of telemedicine and exposed the major opportunities of implementing these systems and processes in place.
More health care providers are seeing patients by computer and smartphone. With improvements in technology and changes to how insurance is managing reimbursement, telemedicine has become the new norm. Without it, doctors would not be able to connect with their patients as easily, especially during the pandemic.
The Future Role of Telemedicine
Telemedicine continues to grow at a rapid rate, and the technology will only get better and accelerate its influence in the healthcare industry. New programs and developments in technology are helping providers better their patients’ experience and respond to ongoing health crises, like COVID-19 and chronic diseases. According to a study done by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, there are more Americans limited to their usual activities due to chronic health conditions. When individuals are limited to their daily activities they may have difficulty in visiting their doctor.
There is no doubt that the impact telemedicine has had on the healthcare industry, as well as its ability to redefine the way health systems operate, deliver care, and manage costs. To provide insight into how telemedicine is shaping the future of healthcare, Modern Healthcare surveyed healthcare leaders and telemedicine providers from a variety of specialties what they believe are the factors that will change the landscape of healthcare.
1. Telemedicine will become a standard service offered across all care settings
“With patients becoming accustomed to the level of access telemedicine provides, I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to go back. The box is open,” as predicted by Atlanta Neurologist, Dr. Jeffrey English.
Telemedicine has steadily grown over the past decade, but the pandemic skyrocketed its adoption. At its current trajectory, Forrester estimates that we’ll see over 1 billion telemedicine visits by the end of 2020.
President of VirtualMed Staff, Jack Williams, agrees, “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.”
2. Patients will choose providers, health systems, and hospitals based on telemedicine access
“When patients feel their care is as good or better than a routine visit in person, all from the comfort of home, those same patients will no longer endure long wait times when it is avoidable,” Williams explains. “Telehealth will redefine patient expectations in all facets of quality healthcare.”
With patients growing more accustomed to virtual care, health systems that lack telemedicine access will see decreased patient volumes from patients choosing providers that do offer telemedicine.
As Dr. English describes, “naysayers to disruptive technology” will eventually have to add telemedicine to their patient care offering. As patients become more accustomed to the level of access telemedicine provides, hospitals that do not offer the service will see a clear decline.
3. Medical facilities that embrace telemedicine will see business and revenue growth
“Patients are now requesting telemedicine. We’ve seen volumes and business increase significantly this year because the competition was slower to adopt and offer telemedicine,” reveals Dr. Tom Tuzel, a New York Psychiatrist.
Hospitals have experienced a significant drop in revenue and patient volumes from COVID-19. The AHA estimated that U.S. Hospitals lost an estimated $202.6 billion from March to June, alone. Now and in the future, telemedicine is a revenue source that can safeguard against future troughs in healthcare.
4. Telemedicine will become an efficient option for preventative care
According to the CDC, chronic diseases that are avoidable through preventative care services account for 75% of the nation’s healthcare spending. By offering more convenient access to follow-up care, specialists for faster diagnosis, and telemedicine treatment, hospitals will demonstrate fewer readmissions, complications, inpatient stays, and reduce higher cost treatments and services.
“The goal of the future care is preventative and to make as many adjustments early on. How do you do that in a cost-effective, time-effective manner? With technology and telemedicine services,” says Dr. Tuzel.
5. Access to specialists will become the norm, which will benefit hospital wait times
“There will be specialty centers where hospitals can call in and have 24/7 access to a network of physicians who are experts in their specialty areas,” explains Dr. English.
With immediate access to a wide range of physician specialists, these facilities can offer patients expanded access to focused care. In turn, this would improve the overall patient experience and reduce the cost of hiring full-time staff on-site.
“In the past, doctors would tell a patient, ‘You need to see a neurologist. Here’s the number,” Dr. English continues. “Now, the doctor can say, ‘You need to see a neurologist, let’s connect with one now.’”
Telemedicine is not meant to replace in-person doctors visits and its benefits are indisputable.
Telemedicine offers the convenience of not having to drive to the doctor’s office or clinic, but instead seeing your doctor from the comfort of your home. If you are working from home or have a busy schedule, virtual visits can be easier to fit into your schedule.
The closure of hospitals and medical facilities, particularly in urban and rural communities caused by the pandemic, has impacted thousands of Americans, especially those in underserved communities without health insurance. Telemedicine helps break this cycle by providing families and individuals accessibility to see a doctor before they get extremely sick.
3. Reduced Exposure to Diseases
With COVID-19, the flu, and other spreadable diseases, doctors can use telehealth appointments to pre-screen patients. Telehealth keeps patients at home, avoiding exposure to viruses and germs. This also helps protect medical professionals and helps avoid the possibility of infecting others.
4. Family Connections
When consulting with your doctor, it’s always good to have a family member who can help you provide information, ask questions, and take note of your doctor’s answers. If that person lives out of town, or even across the country, telemedicine can loop your family member in on the virtual visit if you authorize it.
5. Primary Care and Chronic Condition Support
Keeping up with regular visits is essential to your family’s health, especially if you or a loved one lives with a chronic condition. Telemedicine makes it easy to connect with your doctor or a nurse practitioner. Some systems are set up so that new patients can get a new appointment with the next available practitioner, which can save time.
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