Telehealth Becoming Widespread Across Healthcare

By Mark Kestner, MD, Chief Innovation Officer, MediGuru
Twitter: @Medigurullc

While the use of telehealth to provide patients with health-related services is not new, the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded its use exponentially. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30% of health center visits during the later half of 2020 occurred via telehealth. While that percentage has declined as our national comfort level with COVID-19 has increased, it’s clear that telehealth will remain a common practice across the US healthcare system.

Deeper understanding of potential

One of the most obvious benefits afforded by telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic was its ability to allow for social distancing. During any pandemic, a visit to a doctor’s office is a risk of exposure. Telehealth allows patients to connect with their doctors without taking that risk.

As telehealth has become more accessible, we’ve developed a greater understanding of its many and varied applications. The ability to have a live video interaction is not just beneficial to doctors for patient evaluations. Telehealth provides opportunities to connect patients with care providers at many steps in their journey, including:

  • patient screenings,
  • remote admissions,
  • remote monitoring of vital signs,
  • medication management,
  • post-hospitalization follow ups,
  • treatment reminders,
  • nutrition counseling,
  • caregiver counseling, and
  • coaching for patients with chronic conditions.

While a live video interaction between a patient and his or her health care provider is a key function of telehealth, there are also many situations in which it serves patients without a live or real-time connection. Known as asynchronous care, this includes situations in which information can be provided by patients to medical professionals remotely to be viewed and evaluated at a future time. Patient applications submitted digitally are an example of this.

Growth in capability

One of the most telling statistics regarding the potential for ongoing expansion in telehealth services is the growth in telehealth capability prompted by the COVD-19 pandemic. The CDC reports that in 2019, 43% of health centers were capable of providing clients with telehealth services. The pandemic prompted a rapid expansion of those capabilities, resulting in 95% of health centers reporting they had upgraded their service to be able to provide telehealth.

While the availability of reliable technology definitely plays a role in telehealth growth, especially on the provider side of the equation, there are other factors. Pre-COVID studies revealed a variety of reasons patients resisted telehealth, the most common being related to a lack of familiarity with or confidence in the required technology. Initiatives prompted by COVID-19 pushed more and more patients to connect remotely, resulting in more patients experiencing and becoming comfortable with telehealth solutions.

Acceptance by patients

As the comfort level of patients regarding telehealth has increased, it appears that their acceptance has as well. Statistics show that patients are satisfied with the care that they’re receiving and that telehealth is an option that they are ready to choose. A recent study showed that more than 75% of telehealth patients were satisfied with the care that they received during telehealth visits and more than 80% said that providers were thorough and that communication between patient and physician was good. More than 70% of those surveyed said that they would continue to use telehealth services in the future.

The accelerated acceptance of telehealth by healthcare providers and their patients places increased pressure on the healthcare industry to develop and maintain platforms that keep doctors well informed and patients well cared for. It demands that healthcare providers implement a strategic long-term solution that can serve as a cornerstone for a virtual care practice.