In 2019, about 10% of Americans had used telehealth services. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has soared to 46% of Americans just this year.
According to analysts at McKinsey, the acceleration of consumer and provider adoption of telehealth service could become a $250 billion industry within a year.
Pause for a month to consider this. We’re not talking about growth by the end of the decade or even 2025. This is an effective virtualization of care that could happen seemingly overnight. And this all has to do directly with telehealth and COVID-19.
How is telehealth making such a large leap? And are these gains actually tenable? Very likely. Here’s why.
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Telehealth addresses real needs
Forget about COVID-19 for a minute and consider the state of US healthcare. You likely don’t have to work too hard to come up with a list of its myriad problems.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Telehealth enables anybody with an internet connection to have access to care. Forty-six million Americans live in rural communities. Their average distance from a hospital or healthcare facility is nearly double what is for those living in urban and suburban communities.
For emergencies, this distance makes the difference between life and death. Likewise, for people suffering from chronic illnesses, this is the difference between receiving and not receiving treatment leading to a much higher risk of dying from preventable causes.
Beyond breaking down geographic restrictions, telehealth lowers costs, provides more flexibility, and increases patient adherence to prescription regimens, not only saving lives but also improving the quality of them.
Although it took a pandemic for everybody to realize it, telehealth addresses these massive gaps in the healthcare system to ensure much greater access to care no matter where you live.
Telehealth is safer
Nobody knows when the pandemic will end. In the meantime, telehealth is a much safer way to treat both patients suffering from coronavirus-related illnesses and those who aren’t.
Telehealth has worked wonders for not only containing the spread of COVID-19 but also lowering demand on healthcare professionals who can then focus on more serious cases.
However, while telehealth and COVID-19 fit together perfectly, healthcare professionals have already ascribed its importance for not only treating whatever the next pandemic will be, but also using it to manage the array of infectious diseases like influenza and other respiratory illnesses by reducing care providers’ exposure to these viruses.
For patients, this also means skipping an often painful and debilitating trip to a doctor’s office because they can take not only advantage of video consultation but also digital pharmacies to get prescriptions filled and delivered right to their door.
Telehealth is broad
This is the most exciting part of telehealth. COVID-19 has opened the floodgates, and providers have really gotten creative about what they can do with telehealth services.
While video consultation to diagnose and manage COVID-19 related symptoms have undoubtedly been effective in flattening the curve, this represents only the smallest percentage of what can be done with telemedicine.
The full potential of telehealth will be realized by creating new models for both clinical and non-clinical care, including:
- Remote triage tools
- Virtual home health services
- Remote health monitoring devices
- Voice-activated virtual health assistants
- Diagnostic tool kits
- Virtual counseling and wellness services
While many of these technologies had existed before COVID-19, the pandemic created the environment necessary for them to be truly needed for the first time. However, what people have learned during this time is just how good telehealth services can be.
Telehealth and COVID-19
Two-thirds of people surveyed say COVID-19 has increased their willingness to try telehealth. But the more interesting number is that fully 25% of individuals from this same survey hadn’t considered telemedicine an option before.
This takes us back to the beginning. Most people simply didn’t know about telehealth in the past. Now the cat’s out of the bag, and that’s to everyone’s benefit.