Will the spike in adoption of telehealth stick after the pandemic?
Apr 22, 2022
In the first half of 2020, when the pandemic hit, it slowly became apparent that in COVID-19 we were dealing with a global healthcare crisis the likes of which most people had not seen in their lifetime. As people across the world were urged to stay at home and subjected to other restrictions like social distancing, the focus shifted on how healthcare systems and healthcare providers would deliver health services. After years of stagnation, the spotlight was firmly back on telehealth services.
Indeed, there was a sharp drop in in-person visits and a spike in remote patient monitoring very early in the pandemic. Analysis by McKinsey and Company estimated that telehealth use was 78 times higher in April 2020 compared to February 2020. This has since settled at 38 times over the pre-COVID baseline. The question now is will healthcare delivery through telemedicine sustain these levels or return to the pre-COVID baseline?
The answer to this question guide healthcare institutions, including aesthetic practices, in making decisions about investing in telemedicine tools, planning on scaling telehealth, and training healthcare workers in telehealth technology.
Please continue reading to get a sense of what the future of virtual care could look like.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted global healthcare delivery?
During the pandemic, telehealth has provided a care continuum and a bridge to care for many vulnerable patients. Three factors have enabled the changes in healthcare delivery that were necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic:
1) an increasing willingness by patients to use telehealth technology,
2) an increased willingness by health systems, hospitals, and healthcare providers to offer virtual visits and reach a wider pool of patients,
3) regulatory changes that enabled greater access to and insurance coverage for telehealth visits at the same level as in person visits.
Almost two years after the pandemic began, and with COVID-19 still raging in many parts of the world, healthcare providers now have the chance to introduce hybrid care models that incorporate both virtual and in person clinic visits, with a goal of providing value based care, improved access to health care, greater affordability, and better patient outcomes. Yet, this must be balanced with limiting overuse of telemedicine and the potential for fraud.
What are the benefits of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Offering telehealth visits during the pandemic is safer not only for patient populations but also for healthcare workers. Some of the key benefits of opening your digital front doors are listed below:
1) Reduce potential exposures to infection
2) Reduce strain on healthcare systems
3) Reduce use of PPE by healthcare workers
4) Maintain continuity of care and increase access to care for chronic health conditions
5) Provide increasing access to healthcare services for socially or medically vulnerable patients, for example, patients who live in rural areas, older individuals, and patients with limited mobility
6) Preserve the patient-provider relationship during the pandemic
7) Screen patients with potential symptoms of COVID-19
8) Provide urgent care for non-COVID-19 conditions
9) Provide improving access to primary care physicians and specialists, including mental and behavioral health and medication management of opioid use disorder
10) Provide education and training to healthcare providers through peer-to-peer inpatient and outpatient consultations
Is it a good idea to maintain telemedicine during the COVID-19 outbreak?
The vast majority of health systems have already adopted digital health in addition to in person care. There is hardly a clinic that is not offering video visits. But there is a substantial difference among specialties, with emergency rooms, gynecology, surgery, and dental services having low uptakes to telemedicine; dermatology, urology, nephrology, cardiology, and infectious diseases showing medium uptake; and psychiatry, substance use disorders treatment, rheumatology, endocrinology, ENT, gastroenterology, and pulmonary medicine showing the highest uptake.
The important thing to take into considering now is whether these changes are going to be limited to the near term or should you view telehealth as something that's here to stay.
Will most health systems stick with telehealth services after COVID-19 is over?
Before the pandemic, the adoption of telehealth was stagnant in the US and many other countries in the world. The coronavirus pandemic acted as a catalyst and led to a major spike in telehealth use. Interestingly, before the COVID pandemic, in 2019, consumers were not opposed to telehealth visits — in fact, nearly two out three patients said they were willing to use telemedicine. So, what the pandemic did was push healthcare providers into offering telehealth visits and allow a sizeable number of patients to try out virtual visits.
So, what does the future of virtual care look like?
Business Insider Intelligence says telehealth adoption can either plateau or show an uptick, depending on the duration and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 and beyond.
If COVID-19 follows a moderate course, patients will likely start choosing in person visits over virtual care again. In such a scenario, telehealth adoption is expected to plateau with around 22% of all visits being virtual visits. Patients who have experienced the convenience of remote health care will not give it up and their preference for virtual visits won't disappear completely post-pandemic. The good news is that if COVID cases are on the wane, the demand for cosmetic treatments and aesthetic surgery will rise at the same time as increasing patient confidence in in-person visits.
Assuming that the pandemic follows a severe trajectory into 2022 and beyond, many patients who have not yet tried telehealth visits and video visits will not be able to hold off any longer on using these services. In this scenario, telehealth adoption could climb to 27%, fueled by innovation and investment in virtual health care. Persistent outbreaks will also force insurance companies to match reimbursement for a telehealth visit with an in person visit, which should pave the way for health systems that are sitting on the fence to start offering telemedicine services. A case in point is the United States where the CMS has been offering a growing list of Medicaid services that they will reimburse for.
Pre-pandemic, around 1 in 4 physicians offered telemedicine services at their practices. As of April 2021, 8 out of 10 physicians were offering telehealth visits and over half stated they would continue offering virtual care. McKinsey and Company estimates that the telemedicine will be a quarter-trillion-dollar industry post-pandemic. Healthcare institutions, hospitals, and healthcare workers would therefore do well to prepare for a hybrid patient care model with a mix of telemedicine and in person visits post-pandemic.
We hope this article has helped you gain insight into telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Would you be interested in a ready-made solution that opens up new communication channels with current and prospective patients through video visits and chat? A platform that at the same time allows patients to access care virtually and in person through one easy user interface? The MeTime app does all this and more. If you haven't already done so, sign up with MeTime today and see for yourself what we can do for your aesthetic practice.
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