The State of Telehealth in 2019
How Telehealth Continues to Evolve in 2019 and Beyond
As more care providers adopt telehealth services and make them easily available to patients, it’s clear that telehealth isn’t going anywhere. According to the American Hospital Association, 76% of hospitals in the United States currently use telehealth technology to connect with patients and consulting practitioners remotely. Congress has also expressed growing interest in mass telehealth adoption as a way of giving seniors and patients in underserved communities greater access to healthcare services.
Artificial intelligence (AI), remote patient monitoring (RPM), and other new features are improving telehealth technology. Telehealth software and devices continue to evolve, helping providers better meet the needs of their patients, especially elderly patients, stroke patients, and those with chronic conditions.
Medicaid and Medicare Embrace Telehealth
As of 2019, almost every state Medicaid program offers some form of coverage for telehealth services, such as RPM or video consultations, while private payers are increasingly embracing coverage for telehealth services.
When Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act in 2018, it included policies from the Senate’s Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act, which aims to improve the quality of care for Medicaid beneficiaries, particularly those who suffer from a chronic condition. These patients often struggle to visit their care providers in person due to health concerns and transportation challenges. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 also gives Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) the option to expand their use of telehealth solutions.
Caring for an Aging Population
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seniors made up 13.3% of the U.S. population in 2011 and will account for at least 20% of the population by 2060. As the population continues to age, lawmakers and healthcare providers continue to seek ways to lower costs and better care for the older members of our society. Telehealth technology is being used to treat health problems most common among seniors, including stroke and a range of chronic conditions.
Telestroke will help care providers better serve patients at risk of having a stroke. Saving time is essential when it comes to caring for stroke patients. Video consultations can be used to connect patients with specialists in real-time, increasing their chances of survival and recovery.
Many rural hospitals lack neurologists and other specialists who treat stroke patients. Telestroke is also reducing the need for patients to be transferred from one facility to the next, which lowers the cost of care, improves patient experience, and reduces the chances for error.
The same is true for seniors who suffer from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. RPM devices are doing a better job of managing and tracking patient symptoms, improving the quality of care these patients receive.
Telehealth is also improving care continuity, ensuring these patients are properly cared for after they leave the hospital. Telehealth programs are making it easier for care providers to share medical information, reducing the chances of miscommunication or lapses in patient care.
Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Telehealth
Healthcare providers are beginning to take advantage of AI telehealth programs, such as chatbots, virtual nursing assistants, and call analysis tools. Chatbots work 24/7 and can be used to answer routine patient questions and schedule appointments. This increases the hours of many healthcare centers and improves efficiency in the workplace, so providers can spend more time treating patients.
Virtual nursing assistants can remotely answer patient questions, monitor symptoms, and ease communication between patients and care providers. New programs can also analyze the voices of patients when calling 911 or during video consultations.
They will examine what the person says, how they say it, and any background noise to better assist these patients. A recent study suggests virtual care programs like these could save the healthcare industry as much as $20 billion annually.
Advancements in Wearable Telehealth Technology
Many consumers are now using wearable technology, such as smart watches and wristbands, for healthcare purposes. These devices are becoming more advanced at monitoring the users’ health, including those suffering from a chronic condition.
New features include the detection of irregular heartbeats, remotely recording electrocardiogram (ECG), measuring glucose levels for patients with diabetes, and analyzing sleep stress levels. These advancements will improve patient care in the years ahead, helping providers gain key insights about their patients in real-time.
While many popular wearable devices like Apple Watch and Fitbit have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the FDA recently announced the launch of its digital health software pre-certification pilot program to accelerate the approval process for software-based health programs.
Telehealth is quickly evolving as more providers invest in this technology and use it to better care for their patients. Developers are working to increase the potential of this technology, helping providers overcome certain challenges when caring for elderly patients and those with chronic conditions.
2019 is shaping up to be a great year for telehealth. Stay tuned to learn more about the future of this technology and how it’s changing the healthcare community.