During the ongoing pandemic, hospitals and ERs have turned into hotspots for the spread of coronavirus. In many regions, the situation has left physicians and patients with no option but to resort to remote interaction. In other words, they have to ultimately leverage telehealth services.
In the last couple of months, telehealth’s successful provision of healthcare services has silenced the skeptics of this unorthodox method of attending patients. However, I would like to mention here that telehealth’s acceptance and prevalence had started even before the pandemic began.
Various statistics and surveys indicate that the telehealth sector was booming pre-COVID-19 as well. For instance, the worldwide telehealth market size was around $45 billion last year, and it is projected to expand to $175 billion by 2026. Hopefully, we will have a COVID-19 vaccine by next year. So, the rise shown in this six-year projection makes it clear that telehealth’s recent growth has not been propelled by the current pandemic. I myself have used these services to save time and limit time missed from work and other activities.
Besides numbers, patient behavior which was once a great obstacle is also changing for the better. Patients are becoming more open to using healthcare services without visiting the facilities in person. A Massachusetts General Hospital survey indicates that almost 80% of patients believe that arranging a telehealth follow-up visit is far more convenient than arranging an in-person visit.
Why Is Telehealth On the Rise?
Apart from the development and availability of technology required for telehealth, this virtual section of the healthcare landscape is booming for various reasons. Since physicians, care providers and patients are the most prominent stakeholders in the future of telehealth, I will try to dissect the popularity of telehealth from their perspective.
Why Are More Providers Embracing Telehealth?
Physicians and providers have been investing in telehealth infrastructure for a couple of years now. A report from 2017 suggests that almost 70% of healthcare providers were using telehealth tools. Now, more providers have started to embrace telehealth, and the ones that already have it are expanding their existing infrastructure.
Delivering Better Experience to Patients
Harvard University has conducted pretty interesting research to discover the money-equivalent of the time you spend waiting for the doctor. The researchers have calculated that it costs a patient $43 for the time they spend visiting the clinic and waiting for the doctor. Out of 121 minutes of an itinerary of a doctor’s visit, a patient spends only 20 minutes with the doctor. By using telehealth, physicians and providers can save patients those precious 80 minutes wasted in commutes and waiting rooms.
Expanding Access to Healthcare without Expanding Physical Infrastructure
Hospitals and clinics are always experiencing a shortage of experts and specialists. They also don’t have the means to expand the premises or increase the sizes of waiting rooms for accommodating the ever-increasing number of patients and people accompanying them. Telehealth has enabled them to deliver healthcare services to more patients from the same premises and with the same human resources.
Physicians and providers operating out of urban centers can now establish a branch for rural and suburban areas without building a full-fledged facility there providing care that may have been inaccessible before.
Offering Better Revenue Model
A healthcare facility has to pay bills and staff salaries while constantly upgrading itself with modern technology and equipment. In this financially strained context, the telehealth division offers a better revenue model to them. They can improve their bottom lines with very little investment.
In a traditional clinical setting, things remain chaotic all the time. This chaos can be dealt with by telehealth systems. When patients are attended through a telehealth system, staff members (physicians, specialists, nurses, and attendants) can deliver their skills and services to the right set of conditions and circumstances.
Why Patients Are Leaning Toward Telehealth Services
A survey has found out that 74% of respondents would use telehealth services. The growing Generation Z, millennial, and Generation X population has been fully accustomed to technology, and they don’t mind moving from traditional care provision setup to a virtual one. Apart from these factors, patients are becoming more accepting of telehealth facilities for these reasons.
No Commutes No Waiting
Many of us don’t want to visit physicians for minor illnesses. This reluctance is primarily rooted in the fact that one has to travel and then wait for their turn to see the doctor. Telehealth has removed both these unwanted elements from doctor-patient interaction.
Easy Access to Specialists
Healthcare specialists are a rare commodity. Their appointments are hard to get, and you often need to travel long distances to visit them in person. Telehealth services have made specialists more accessible to patients. Patients can get expert advice from a specialist without taking off from work and without emptying their fuel tanks.
Better Follow-up Regimen
For a patient suffering from a recurring or chronic illness, telehealth has become a godsend. Instead of undergoing the inconvenience and hassle of visiting the clinic regularly, they can keep in touch with their physicians through a video link.
Is There Any Flipside?
Every new technology with all its benefits also involves some tradeoff. So, before I sign off, I would like to have a quick view of the “other side” of telehealth. The first and foremost drawback of telehealth services is certainly the loss of human touch. To be honest, having an in-person checkup has a therapeutic value that only patients can understand.
The other downside, or rather fear, is that care providers will develop a neglectful attitude with the prevalence of telehealth. Instead of trying to investigate the symptoms properly, they will count on antibiotics to cure the disease. Some people also think that the rise of telehealth will further exacerbate privacy issues as it involves transmitting confidential patient data via the Internet.
Despite all these drawbacks and concerns, telehealth’s scope will continue to expand because its benefits for everyone outweigh the issues it poses. Also, many such concerns are arising out of presumptions and overcautious thinking, and they will be ironed out with time.