The pandemic paved the way for telemedicine, and now it’s here to stay

April 2, 2021 | by Gracia Larrain

The telemedicine industry was already embarking on a precipitous rise at the start of 2020, well before the first signs of COVID-19. Once the pandemic hit and now one year later, those numbers have steadily increased and are showing no signs of slowing down. The crisis-driven challenges brought on by the pandemic forced virtual care to centerstage, from what was once considered an uncharted frontier for most to a viable and preferable solution and resource to respond to patients’ needs.

The pandemic brought virtual care into the mainstream and as a result has become an indispensable component of care infrastructure across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same time period in 2019.

According to the American Medical Association, the adoption of virtual care has seen a spike, with many new services being added to Medicare’s telehealth list over the past year as well. The challenge here is sustaining this momentum and ensuring these services remain available to all in the long term, and permanently lift the despite geographic and site-of-service restrictions that could prevent nationwide and in-home service for patients.  

The major appeal of telehealth is that it affords patients a greater set of options. Virtual care allows patients to be more in control of their healthcare and their choices, as well as the opportunity to consider alternatives to how they interact with healthcare professionals, whether that’s in person, over the phone or virtual. Particularly for those who live in rural and remote areas, telemedicine’s greatest benefit is accessibility, and that is indispensable.    

The keyword of accessibility is what every patient yearns for when facing a medical issue. Whether it is potentially life-threatening, something to monitor or just requiring preventative measures, technology has facilitated the integration of virtual care and mobile health that leads to better outcomes. For example, the devices that patients can wear to track their vitals and transmit that data to a healthcare provider helps to manage health conditions to reduce the need for patients to have to make an in-person visit. And the use of mobile health apps has also produced the same effect. A recent report from Carnegie Mellon University and New York University found that mobile health app users were able to regulate their health behavior more effectively, thus easing the burden on the healthcare system and helping the patient feel in control.  

As far as innovation, Artificial intelligence (AI) has already made a significant impact and is expected to bring new capabilities over the next few years. AI has the potential to enhance the patient’s experience by improving diagnostics, data monitoring of health conditions and even provide reminders for medication. Ultimately, AI has the capacity to give patients the ability to better manage their health for better results. 

COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare. With the majority of in-person care visits put on hold, the use of virtual care services exploded during the crisis. Nearly overnight, digital healthcare became a critical part of the new normal, and patients and healthcare providers alike were forced to become fast adopters. While it’s evident that these new norms and practices are here to stay, there are matters to address to make for a more seamless and comprehensive patient experience, but the benefits outweigh the challenges.