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By Dessiree Paoli
Over the past year, the evolution of telehealth has become more of a revolution. While the service has been steadily growing in the industry over the past few years, the pandemic has pushed it to new heights, with virtual visits increasing by 4,345% in March and April alone.
For many, telehealth’s growth has been an eye-opener. One study found that only 25% of people had used telehealth services before the pandemic. Now, the majority say they’re likely to continue using it even once the pandemic has passed. The healthcare industry as a whole had to pivot as a result of the pandemic-induced telehealth boom. Many organizations didn’t offer the service, and a number of those that did were slowly implementing it.
Providers quickly had to determine what works and what doesn’t to serve a sudden influx of virtual patients. They also had to start planning for a post-pandemic future that will likely see patients rely on electronic health solutions far more than before COVID-19.
Lessons From the Telehealth Revolution
While the dust has not settled on all of these changes, enough time has passed that it’s possible to see how the new role of digital technology in healthcare has helped the industry — and where there’s still room for improvement. With that in mind, here are several of the biggest lessons that can be gleaned from the unprecedented growth of telehealth and how it will shape the future of healthcare:
- Telehealth goes beyond virtual visits. While virtual visits are one of the most well-known aspects of telehealth, they’re only the tip of the iceberg regarding what the service can accomplish. Telehealth offers a range of electronic health solutions that cover the entire continuum of care. For example, remote monitoring and patient portals enable providers to take a proactive approach to patient care in ways that traditional health services simply cannot. To harness telehealth’s full power, healthcare organizations will need to rethink all of their processes through a digital lens.
- Virtual care saves lives. Telehealth visits limit exposure to COVID-19 for patients and healthcare workers alike, but remote monitoring technology can also go a long way in treating contagious patients without risking lives. When Sheba Medical Center in Israel was tasked with caring for exposed passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise, staff members set up a field hospital within three days that monitored infected patients remotely; they even had a robotic telemedicine cart patients could use to connect with caregivers easily. Imagine what might have been possible with more than three days’ notice, and you have a glimpse into how massive telehealth’s impact on patient care can be.
- More work needs to be done on infrastructure. Many healthcare organizations had to hit the ground running to meet the sudden demand for telehealth. It also means that many organizations will need to improve their offerings for the future. Going forward, healthcare organizations must find ways to blend digital solutions with existing processes and to create user-friendly methods for patients to access their data and communicate with their doctors.
Implemented effectively, a digital-first approach reduces risks for patients and staff while streamlining the entire healthcare process. COVID-19 has done a lot to highlight telehealth’s potential, but it has also clarified how much more work is needed. It’s time for healthcare leaders to take the lessons learned during this telehealth explosion and use them to create sustainable, digital-first solutions that are ready for the next phase in healthcare.
Dessiree Paoli is a senior solution marketing manager at Interlace Health, a company that transforms workflows by providing clinicians and patients with digital healthcare solutions. She has more than 18 years of experience in driving strategic marketing initiatives and developing integrated campaigns. She also has worked in healthcare for more than 12 years, including experience with a large children’s hospital, a national urgent care chain, and several HIT organizations.