The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on current health care systems. Though Covid-19 is capturing all the headlines, many patients are still suffering from other ailments. This has forced doctors to look for a more efficient way to treat them while ensuring appropriate “social distance”. Enter telehealth.
Telehealth can be defined as the use of technology and electronic communications software to monitor and treat patients remotely. Telehealth has grown steadily as an industry for many years now. According to a report by IBISWorld, the industry has seen its revenue grow at a CAGR of 34.7% from 2014 to 2019. In 2019, the market was pegged at $45bn and it is expected to cross $175n by 2026. After the pandemic hit in late March 2020, the number of patients using telehealth services skyrocketed from ~11,000 a week to over 650,000 people a week in the United States.
How has telehealth evolved?
Over the last 3 decades, the scope of telehealth treatment has increased to include mental health as well as patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart failure and asthma.
A 2019 study conducted by American Well found that 66 percent of Americans are open to the idea of using telehealth, but only eight percent had actually tried it. There are various reasons why the penetration has been low. For starters, most insurance companies are hesitant about the fact that people will over-use telehealth services if coverage was made available abundantly. Therefore, there are many restrictions in place with regards to the type of telehealth services insured are willing to cover.
Key trends to look out for
Below we take a look at some innovations made in this field to get an idea about what the future of telehealth could look like.
- Care navigation: Healthcare providers are constantly evaluating digital solutions to better connect with patients. COVID has helped accelerate this trend. Automated care navigation tools can help providers achieve more efficiency in their clinical workflow processes. Patients can initiate care from their own devices in the comfort of their home, reducing the need for unnecessary contracts between providers and patients.
- Primary care: Healthcare IT companies continue to form partnerships with telehealth companies in the primary care spectrum. These systems help to reduce admin costs by integrating co-ordinated processes.
- Diagnostic testing: Healthcare providers are integrating home diagnostic systems with remote care models to help make diagnostics more convenient, affordable, and efficient.
- Acute care: Telehealth firms are also evaluating technologies to assist on-site care teams to deliver advanced care. Given the current pandemic scenario where hospital ICUs are near their full capacity, such technologies can help to connect on-site care teams with remote specialists. This process will ensure more patients receive high-quality, acute care they require.
- Remote monitoring: Wearable technology greatly reduces the risk of infection given that they are used at home. These devices are fitted with real time monitoring systems and the data they generate can be integrated with predictive modelling tools. Such technologies can greatly help alleviate some of the pressures on available healthcare resources.
- Mental health support: Sound mental health is being emphasized as more and more people transition towards and adopt remote lifestyles. Teletherapy companies are looking to personalize mental healthcare and make it more accessible. Many companies are paying for these services for their employees, to help them cope with the increase stress levels brought upon by the pandemic.
There is no doubt that the future of telehealth looks bright. Further technological advances will only help improve the quality of current offerings. The trends we have highlighted above will help one to understand the innovations being brought about in the space. Mankind should look to leverage technology to the fullest extent to ensure that quality and timely healthcare is accessible to everyone. Though nothing compares with an in-person consultation, government imposed lockdowns to contain the pandemic will continue to push more people to explore telehealth solutions. We can expect telehealth providers to continue to innovate to help make such services even more effective and affordable for the general public.