The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the way that people interact, including in healthcare settings. One major way the pandemic has changed reality is via increased utilization of telehealth options. Telehealth — sometimes referred to as telemedicine — is the use of electronic and telecommunications technologies to distribute health-related information and services. People can now interact with their doctors and other licensed medical professionals via video conferencing and phone calls.
While several types of telehealth have been around for a while, the utilization of these options has skyrocketed throughout the pandemic. Since social distancing measures and other precautions have made it difficult for people to meet face-to-face, virtual consultations, monitoring, and even treatment have facilitated health care during COVID-19. Here are some of the ways telehealth has changed since the pandemic.
Increased use of remote-patient monitoring (RPM) technology. RPM technologies enable providers to care for patients remotely. In some cases, patients are given devices and thermometers that can relay real-time health and vital information to their doctors. Patients can view their data, like blood pressure and heart rate information, by logging onto the provider’s app on their smartphones. Both patient and doctor can communicate about this information via virtual consultations on the internet or phone.
People have increased access to specialists. Due to telehealth’s flexible nature and lack of geographic limitations, people have gained more specialized care access. Hospitals that have specialists on staff have served more patients in a broader range of zip codes. For people in rural areas with fewer hospitals and specialists in their geographic location, this has meant an increased ability to get the care they need via telehealth.
Better health outcomes. Many providers have noted that improved health outcomes have been a pleasant result of a greater focus on telehealth. With in-person visits, providers tend to see more cancellations or missed appointments for a variety of factors. Virtual consultations’ convenience enables more people to keep their appointments and connect with their providers remotely, leading to better health outcomes.
More advanced technology. A natural effect of the increased use of telehealth services is that there has been a greater focus on improving the technology that facilitates it. Cooperation and incentivization by lawmakers and the federal government has allowed the adoption of telehealth services to take off, with an expected annual growth rate of 38% over the next five years. Many in the telehealth industry are investing time and capital into advancements in the remote healthcare space, including companies like Google, Zocdoc, and Teladoc, which will continue to roll out innovations rapidly.
Telehealth has changed since the pandemic, and many of these changes may be here to stay. While the government and providers are still figuring out the details around payment and reimbursement for telehealth services, the hope is that people will continue to take advantage of telehealth services like virtual consultations long after the pandemic ends. Considering the numerous benefits that telehealth has yielded, it is not far-fetched to think that it will be around for the foreseeable future.