Why Telehealth Will Be More Prominent Going Forward
How the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Paving the Way for a Digital Future
Across the country, doctors and healthcare providers are using telehealth to communicate with and treat their patients during the coronavirus pandemic. The disease known as COVID-19 is considered extremely contagious, so individuals are being urged to stay home and stay at least six feet apart unless they need urgent medical care.
Telehealth allows providers to remotely treat their patients, so neither party has to worry about possibly being infected with the virus. Telehealth can help individuals stay in touch with their care providers and manage their symptoms during this uncertain time.
Telehealth usage is quickly ramping up across the United States as providers and their patients look for ways to minimize potential exposure to the disease and the outside world. These trends will likely continue even after the end of the pandemic as individuals look for ways to safeguard their health going forward.
The Need for Telehealth During a Global Pandemic
Patients can easily be exposed to or spread germs at the doctor’s office, which means anyone coming into the facility could be exposed to the virus. That’s why providers are urging their patients to call ahead before coming into the facility, so they don’t expose themselves or others to the virus. If patients need urgent medical care, they will be directed to a local emergency room. If it’s not an emergency, the patient can stay at home to prevent the spread of infection.
Both coronavirus patients with mild symptoms and those seeking non-coronavirus care can likely use telehealth to manage their health without risking spreading the disease or risking exposure to the virus. Providers can still remotely assess patients and their symptoms using live video and audio. They can also write prescriptions and check up on the health of their patients using digital thermometers, remote patient monitoring, and other smart medical devices.
Telehealth also reduces the burden placed on in-person medical facilities. Nurses and doctors across the country are working around the clock to save as many coronavirus patients as possible. Ventilators, mouth swabs, and personal protective equipment are in short supply as patients start to overwhelm local health systems. Providers can use telehealth to keep as many patients at home as possible while preserving precious resources for those that need urgent in-person medical care.
Helping Providers Establish a Digital Future
Telehealth has been on the rise for the last several decades as providers and states look for ways to reduce healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes. The global telemedicine industry was valued at $17.8 billion in 2014 and grew at a compound annual growth rate of 18.4% from 2014 to 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic seems to be rapidly accelerating these trends as more providers and firms look for ways to better manage the outbreak while limiting their potential risk. According to Kaiser Health News, the Cleveland Clinic logged more than 60,000 telehealth visits during the month of March. Before that, the health system saw around 3,400 telehealth visits a month.
State and local governments are also removing certain barriers that previously prevented smaller firms from adopting this technology, such as improving rural access to broadband internet and expanding telehealth parity laws. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working on bills to boost funding for telehealth programs, while expanding broadband coverage for rural areas, so local patients can access digital healthcare services.
Both Medicaid and Medicare now offer telehealth parity, which means virtual care services are reimbursed at the same rate as in-person services. Private insurers have yet to offer telehealth parity, but this may change in the months to come. Medicaid/Medicare providers can now virtually consult with patients across state lines even if they are not licensed in the patient’s state.
As more providers and patients take advantage of these services and programs during the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine things going back to the way they were. Telehealth has already proved popular among providers and patients, so both parties will likely continue using these programs for the foreseeable future. All kinds of patients, including those with chronic conditions, may use these tools to better safeguard their health in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Thanks to new telehealth coverage laws and expanded broadband access, everyone will hopefully be able to see their doctor virtually in the years to come.