Telehealth has dramatically altered the way in which medicine is being conducted and delivered in the United States. No longer is it necessary in many cases for patients to go to a doctor’s office when they are ill. Now they can consult a doctor in their own homes, even when they are sick in bed.
A healthcare provider can diagnose an illness, deliver advice, and even prescribe medication remotely. They can do so wherever the patient is located. It could be down the road, across the country, or even somewhere else in the world.
This new method of delivering healthcare is becoming increasingly sophisticated as the telehealth software development that drives telehealth is continually updated and improved.
These improvements and increasing acceptance of telehealth are forecast to soar in coming years. So much so that the market will grow to $2.8 billion by the year 2027, according to a forecast by UnivDatos Market Insights.
Boosted by COVID-19
Even before COVID-19 hit the United States, telehealth was starting to take off.
Among the reasons people sought telehealth before COVID were concerns about the spreading of germs, frustration in being unable to see a doctor in a reasonable time frame, time limits on visits, and an increase in annual deductions for healthcare, says Dr. Janine Darby, founder of Lifestyle Changes, which provides virtual primary care and weight management services.
The unexpected increase in virtual medical care during the pandemic was an impetus for her to expand her practice into the provision of virtual primary care, Darby says. She describes telemedicine as a win-win for all involved.
When the virus forced people into lockdown and restricted the movements of people across the country the demand for remote medical services grew strongly. Not only were people reluctant to leave their homes, but doctors had to be careful that patients visiting their offices would bring the virus with them.
The closing of hospitals in many areas of the country in recent years also has meant that people have had to travel for long distances to see a healthcare provider; the pandemic made their situation even worse.
Suddenly telehealth became the answer.
According to Yalantias.com this increased demand for remote medical assistance because of the pandemic led authorities to remove barriers to health testing and the easing of regulations on remote provision of healthcare in a way that would have been far slower or even unlikely had the pandemic not taken place. Congress as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services loosened strict restrictions on telehealth that had existed before the pandemic hit.
Care became more effective
The lifting of the restrictions enabled healthcare centers more effectively to provide care to a remote locality. Not only could developers create new and innovative tools for patients to access care of the highest quality from their homes, but fees also could be set at the same rates as those charged for a regular visit in person to a healthcare facility—or even less.
As a result, healthcare centers boosted virtual medical check-ins, voice-only visits, and electronic visits for a wide range of services. They were able to reach patients who were more vulnerable, particularly among the elderly. They also lowered the number of appointments that were missed, and made follow-ups as well as the treatment of chronic health conditions easier.
In addition, the lifting of restrictions in the wake of the pandemic enabled developers to improve and enhance the software that drives telehealth.
The results were remarkable. Almost all healthcare centers provided their 30 million patients with telehealth services during the pandemic compared with fewer than half that had done so before COVID, according to an analysis by the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Growing technological advancement, such as patient monitoring that is conducted remotely and care services based in the home will drive strong growth of the market in coming years.
Those who will benefit most are patients who are fragile, suffering from chronic
Providers are warning, however, that advancements in telehealth will be hindered should many of the flexible options that became available when restrictions were lifted by the authorities be reintroduced. Many of these options will expire when the Public Health Emergency that enabled the lowering of restrictions ends, says Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer of the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Should these options be allowed to expire, patients’ health will be severely impacted, he says.
Optimizing telehealth to meet future needs
Today customized technology is aimed at not just improving regular telemedicine but also at fitting the needs of individual doctors and special situations.
Among the new developments are those by virtual care provider Pager. The company says its platform guides patients through their healthcare experience with services that include nurse triage, video conferences with doctors as well as specialists, follow-up care, and customer service.
Another recent development is the enabling of health records to be stored on an iPhone, allowing patients to view and save their medical records from multiple providers. A patient’s lab results, procedures, medications and allergies can all be recorded. The data is secure and private.
At the same time partnerships are being established that unite providers of healthcare with government agencies, private organizations, and employers. These partnerships will provide adequate infrastructure to drive the future of telehealth services.
The storing and analyzing of clinical data that is relevant to a patient’s needs to enable consultations that are conducted remotely will turn a home or any other environment into a virtual clinical care office.
Expanded Medicare access
When Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services loosened the restrictions on telehealth, healthcare providers were able to reach patients who rely on Medicare to cover the costs.
Now healthcare providers fear that if the authorities fail to reinstate the emergency regulations that allowed the loosening of the restrictions these most vulnerable patients on Medicare will be severely affected. Not only might the costs no longer be borne by Medicare, but development of telehealth to improve service to those on Medicare would likely also be hindered.
Perhaps, as the experts at medicareinsuranceaz.com put it, having an independent medicare agent assess your needs might improve the situation for those over 65. Indeed, they are the most vulnerable medicare consumers.
Whole new future
Telehealth has already revolutionized much of the healthcare industry, bringing doctors into the home rather than patients having to travel long distances to visit a doctor. Much of this revolution has come in the wake of the pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
Although a number of patients are returning to in-office visits as the pandemic eases, those who are most vulnerable and those who live in rural areas are looking forward to the trend toward more and more development in the field of telehealth to continue.
For some, it might even mean the difference between life and death.
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