Telehealth emerged as the quiet hero of the 2020 global pandemic. Virtual visits skyrocketed as house-bound and other facility-dependent patients sought care during COVID. Instead of traveling to a remote site and waiting in a front office to see the doctor, you can now dial up a provider from the comfort of your living room on your favorite digital device.
Telehealth is nothing new; the technology has been here for five decades. What’s new is that most practices now offer telehealth and patients are learning to like it. What’s next for telehealth in a post-pandemic world?
The State of Telehealth
Even before a global pandemic lock-down made telehealth a necessity, most healthcare organizations were already offering the service in a hub and spoke delivery of care. This was particularly true for community healthcare facilities seeking the second opinions of specialty providers. Hub and spoke allowed them to seek out the services of an urban specialist for patient care without paying to have them on staff permanently. Telehealth evolved to a more direct-to-consumer approach, with many telehealth companies contracting doctors to provide care to patients over their screens. Most insurance companies offer some sort of telehealth coverage for their subscribers and in fact, many have increased the telehealth visit reimbursement to match that of face-to-face visits.
There are benefits of telehealth services for the patient, provider, healthcare organizations, and payers. For example:
Benefits of Telehealth for Patients
- Patients don’t have to travel to see their doctor. This saves hundreds and sometimes thousands in time off work and travel costs.
- Patients avoid exposure to other ill patients by using telehealth.
Benefits of Telehealth for Providers
- Providers can also avoid traveling to a remote clinical location to provide care. This is particularly impactful for on-call providers.
- Providers have better work/life balance and a more efficient schedule when using telehealth.
Benefits of Telehealth for Healthcare Organizations and Payers
- In-office no-shows are reduced with telehealth.
- The cost of providing care is reduced without a corresponding drop in care quality.
Telehealth is convenient and efficient for everyone involved. It’s no wonder the consensus today is that these services are not only going to stick around after COVID but probably expand into the “new normal.” Telehealth can help hospitals fight COVID by triaging the “worried well,” keeping non-COVID-infected patients out of the ER to reduce the pressure on staff.
As we write this, the new COVID variant is taking hold, prompting some hospitals to postpone elective procedures and keep patients out of their facilities to concentrate on pandemic cases. Once again, telehealth will emerge at the forefront of care in an effort to provide treatment without spreading the disease.
Over the next few years, expect that telehealth platforms will increasingly improve in the area of ease-of-use and user-friendliness. HIPPA Security will likely continue to improve in direct proportion to cyberterrorism threats. More companies will likely invest in these platforms and likely healthcare providers will also adopt the virtual visit as a permanent part of their service line offerings to patients.
One thing that will not change is the need for virtual healthcare. As the use of these platforms continues to normalize as an accepted best practice for providing care, and as more patients repeatedly use these tools, telehealth usage will grow. This will necessitate providers to develop their “web side manner” right along with their bedside manner in the future.
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