Partly Fueled by Pandemic, Telehealth is Here to Stay

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Ever since the start of the pandemic, industries of every variety have scrambled to adapt – and for many, this has resulted in an expansion of online offerings. From grocery shopping to dating, more and more people are choosing to go online rather than stick with the in-person option. As it happens, personal healthcare is one service that’s been increasingly available online, and according to both doctors and patients, that probably won’t change anytime soon. 

Whether you’re going over test results with your primary healthcare provider, or chatting with your therapist on TheraPlatform, it’s easier than ever to take care of your health without even having to leave the house. A few years ago, this was a convenience that just a few providers offered; once the pandemic hit, it became a necessity. Now that restrictions are lifting, though, many people are continuing to use telehealth over traditional visits to the doctor’s office. Why? There are a few different reasons.

Convenience

You could be a busy parent, or you could simply live hours away from the nearest medical facility; whatever the case, there are a lot of people who have a hard time obtaining consistent, high-quality healthcare. Telehealth is constantly evolving, and many platforms can now be used by anyone with a smartphone. Even though healthcare professionals are restricted to using platforms that are HIPAA-compliant, that still opens up the possibilities for a lot of people. 

More favorable insurance regulations

For many people, the amount of healthcare they receive will depend on what their health insurance will pay for. While many telehealth providers are still figuring out how to handle the billing process where insurance is concerned, it’s likely that insurance companies will recognize the growing demand for virtual consultations, and reimburse healthcare professionals for those just like they would for in-person appointments. There aren’t any guarantees for this, of course, but since it seems that telehealth services will become increasingly common in the future, insurance companies are sure to take notice. 

Improved technologies

Before the arrival of COVID-19, there wasn’t much incentive for healthcare providers to offer polished online alternatives to in-person appointments. Granted, there were a few options here and there, but they were exceptions to the rule. Once there was a need for it, though, telemedicine providers worked quickly to expand their offerings. Now there are a multitude of platforms that suit the needs of doctors and patients alike, and there’s every chance that they’ll keep improving as innovations in virtual care continue. A few years ago, telemedicine was inconsistent and clumsy; the concept was good, but the execution needed work. However, thanks to advancements in technology (and the urgency brought by the pandemic), things have definitely changed for the better. 

Safety concerns

Aside from the obvious, how many infections diseases do you think pass through the average doctor’s office daily? Vulnerable populations, such as the very young or the very old, actually take a bit of a risk going to brick-and-mortar healthcare establishments. It can’t always be avoided, but if telehealth provides a common-sense alternative, why not take advantage of it? 

Decreased costs

Between the cost of gas, parking, childcare, and time taken off work, the expenses associated with healthcare go way beyond just paying the medical bills. If someone can simply join a call on a telehealth platform, though, they won’t just be saving themselves some stress – they’ll also be saving money.

Increased engagement with patients

If every patient-doctor interaction involved a laborious trip to a physical location, that would certainly give someone second thoughts about keeping tabs on a long-term or chronic illness. Even if they want or need to get frequent professional input on their health, that just isn’t feasible for many people. If they can schedule a virtual appointment, though, that’s a different story – remote monitoring becomes much easier, and the burden of periodic checkups is reduced for the patient. 

What are some of the challenges faced by telehealth?

Even though it’s made great strides in the past couple of years, there are still a few details that need to be worked out. 

Limitations of IT resources

There’s a lot more to telehealth than a doctor or therapist sitting in front of a webcam. In order for healthcare professionals to provide an acceptable level of service to large numbers of people, their IT teams will need expanded budgets, increased personnel, and larger facilities. If telehealth is expanded, the resources that make it possible will need to expand along with it. 

Mobility of data

The way patient data is handled looks a bit different when healthcare workers are doing everything online. As patient records, financial information, and back-office notes are updated with each visit, this process needs to be secure as well as efficient. If clinicians are able to quickly access logins, patient data, and relevant applications, this will have a positive impact on both the bottom line and on healthcare workers’ satisfaction. 

HIPAA compliance and security

Many healthcare practices have already made the switch from paper to digital records, but there are specific security concerns when a patient is being treated virtually. Cyber attacks are a real risk when it comes to personally identifiable information, so it’s the responsibility of the healthcare provider to protect sensitive data. Long-term data retention, data protection, and data security are actually mandated by HIPAA, so any healthcare practice that’s looking into offering telehealth services will have to do their research in order to comply with regulations.

Scalability

Some healthcare providers have successfully transitioned a significant portion of their practice to telehealth, but this isn’t the case with everyone. Infrastructure that worked for a few virtual patients could be totally inadequate for any notable expansion, which could result in delays while budgetary and infrastructure needs are dealt with. 

A pandemic may have kick-started telehealth’s popularity, but people are realizing just how much it has to offer.

Even once COVID-19 restrictions are a thing of the past, it’s very likely that telehealth platforms will continue to be a much-appreciated option among both healthcare workers and patients.