Telehealth Surge Shaping Future of Health Care Industry
Written by Joshua Kleinstreuer
IN A NUTSHELL:
- COVID-19 has caused surge in telehealth use
- Telehealth likely to see continued use beyond COVID-19
- Provides economic benefits, patient care perks
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, health care facilities across the United States and around the globe are turning to telehealth to keep up with patient demand and routine patient care, but the technology is here to stay long after the pandemic ends.
Why telehealth is a promising public health tool:
- Potentially significant impact on medically underserved populations through increased access.
- Increasing prevalence as a recognized standard of care.
- Positive influence on the provider-patient relationship.
- Strong potential to save billions of dollars in health care expenditures.
Many health care facilities are facing supply shortages, staffing shortages, and health care administration is overwhelmed.
Consequently, the advantages of telehealth and telemedicine are moving to the forefront. Congress included $500 million for the use of telehealth services in its emergency COVID-19 aid package passed toward the beginning of March. The legislation gives $200 million to the Federal Communications Commission to help it expand telehealth services during the pandemic.
Practical applications of the new, more lenient regulations regarding telehealth and telemedicine have already been put into place for health care services treating coronavirus and COVID-19 patients. Earlier this year Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey installed “video robots” in its pop-up tents.
The devices are able to transmit a video of the patient in the tent to a physician inside the emergency room. The device is also equipped with an electronic stethoscope to monitor the patient’s breathing. After the consultation, the physician recommends if the patient should be admitted to the emergency room or if the patient should simply self-quarantine at home.
Telehealth Use Surges:
A new report suggests the use of telehealth will increase by more than 64 percent nationwide this year due to the effects of COVID-19. According to the study, Telehealth: A Technology-Based Weapon in the War Against the Coronavirus 2020, researchers predict that the pandemic will continue to reshape care delivery and open big opportunities for virtual care in the near future. The same study is predicting a sevenfold growth in telehealth during the next five years.
This immediate growth is causing federal agencies to take into account how valuable telehealth is for patients and the industry as a whole. Recently, the federal government lifted restrictions on Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services. This immediately allowed telephone and videoconferencing between doctors and patients.
Consequently, employers across the U.S. are urging employees to stay at home to help flatten the curve and keep the coronavirus from spreading more quickly. However, workers in the health care industry are among those that are considered essential and have to work, no matter the circumstances. Therefore, there is an increasing amount of evidence that COVID-19 may forever change how people in the health care industry do their jobs. One such example is radiology. In the COVID-19 era, health care workers in that sector of the industry are now using digital technologies to work from home. Aside from the health benefit of reduced exposure to radiation, telehealth for radiology could increase physician efficiency with additional hospital capacity. Since the coronavirus can cause respiratory complications, imaging services are in need now more than usual. Radiologists working virtually would allow for more scans to be read and diagnosed.
Expanded Options for Patients:
Another long-term implication that telehealth is here to stay is the fact that the technology is increasing care options for patients that might not otherwise receive it. As facilities see the increase in patient care from expanded telehealth services under the coronavirus response bill, they are likely to expand beyond COVID-19 treatments. One area that may see the most benefit from telehealth is rural America, where access to health care facilities is a growing dilemma.
The CDC supported applications of telehealth technology before the coronavirus pandemic, especially in rural communities. Now the organization also recommends that health care providers leverage “existing telehealth tools to direct people to the right level of healthcare for their medical needs” throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Benefits of telehealth during the pandemic:
- Increased consumer access
- The enhanced reach of healthcare services
- Cost savings for medical providers
- 24/7 coverage
- Higher customer satisfaction
- Reduced cost for patients
Economic Impact of Telehealth:
A recent study shows that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the total annual revenues of organizations using telehealth were an estimated $3 billion, with the largest vendors focused in the “virtual urgent care” segment: helping consumers get on-demand instant telehealth visits with physicians.
Often times, this involved care and consultations with a physician the patient had no previous relationship with. With the acceleration of consumer and provider adoption of telehealth and extension of telehealth beyond virtual urgent care, the study found that up to $250 billion of current health care spending in the United States could potentially be virtualized.
Telehealth is Here to Stay:
In short, the coronavirus pandemic will permanently alter many aspects of our daily life. It is still too soon to know how it will affect schools and business as they begin to reopen. However, it is undoubtedly evident that the coronavirus will alter how we think about health care, as telehealth and telemedicine become integral and essential components of the health care industry in the United States and around the world.