Telehealth: Post-Pandemic Adoption and Challenges
With an effective coronavirus vaccine all set for a public rollout (soon), hopefully, 2020 will end on a better note than it started. But what does it mean for the future of telehealth? Will telehealth continue to be in demand and use after the pandemic…
…Or is telehealth just a pandemic fad?
Well, the pandemic did set the stage for the telehealth take off, and the industry experts are of the opinion that telehealth services will outlast the pandemic itself. The funding has been escalating and the market is predicted to hit $185.6 billion by 2026.
When coronavirus first started, around 71% of patients in the United States considered opting for virtual healthcare, and 50% of the US patients had already used virtual appointments. (source: medical economics)
And the numbers don’t lie – a recent report has revealed that 83% of patients said they want to continue using virtual appointments even after the pandemic has resolved. Telehealth is definitely here to stay. One of the major reasons being easy to use applications that can be used from your smartphones or be connected with any wearable devices. However, what major factors will drive forward its adoption?
Telehealth Adoption Post-Pandemic
During the pandemic, we saw the industry shift from in-person care to virtual delivery and many Americans today are a lot more open-minded and accepting of telehealth visits than they were a few years back.
Uberization of healthcare is one of the major reasons pushing telehealth’s adoption – apps being the most robust form of telehealth at present. Smartphone mirrors the consumer experience. Not only is it with you all the time, but it is also easy, with immediate access to a healthcare provider of choice and that too right from your smartphones. Compared to in-person doctor visits a telehealth appointment saves the patients hours of their time and costs, within the comfort of their own homes.
In a recent survey, patients were asked what would encourage them to opt for a telehealth appointment, and the convenience factor was voted to be the main reason. 69% of patients said it’s easy-to-use technology, 57% vouched because of communication factor, 47% said they enjoyed the online scheduling capabilities, 47% voted for immediate appointment availability (47%). These convenience factors are the major drivers of telehealth adoption.
Telehealth is helping erase the barriers which hurdled patient care previously i.e. opening communication channels and strengthening the connection between physician and patient, improving their access to care. Patients too are beginning to realize how telehealth or telemedicine can help them avoid major illnesses.
93% of patients reported in a survey that they would like to use telemedicine to manage prescriptions, meanwhile, 91% of them say that telemedicine makes it easier to manage their prescriptions and refills, helps stick to appointment schedules, and follow up on their wellness regimens as prescribed by their doctor. (Source: Doctor.com)
Another report’s findings say that if virtual care including the on-demand virtual (urgent) care, near-virtual office visits, virtual office visits, tech-enabled home medication administration, and virtual home health services is shifted to telehealth:
- 20% of all emergency hospital trips could be prevented
- 24 percent of hospitals and clinic visits could be handled electronically and a further 9 percent delivered “near-virtually”
- 35% of routine healthcare facilities could be digitized
- 2% of all appointments could be held at home using technology-enabled medical administration.
However, with more and more people eager to adopt telehealth there are certain challenges and obstacles that most people are concerned about. After all, more than anything it’s confidential patient data at stake. So, what is the show-stopper here?
Key Challenges of Telehealth
Medical IoT (IoMT) devices have long hailed as the remedy, but this too comes with a multitude of challenges, including accessibility due to unavailability of internet connection, insurance coverage, and security.
Although healthcare facilities have made robust initiatives to maintain the security of their networks especially after significant ransomware attacks in recent years, individual computers, home-based patient monitors, and remote-care devices have no built-in security and remain open to such attacks or breaches of security. These remote devices have zero network protection that even the hospitals offer while they are in a secure area. Building real-time security for standard IoT systems with exponentially more connectivity continues to be a problem for vendors looking to deploy quickly. Here are some other challenges:
- Level of comfort with technology
- Interstate licensure barriers and other compliance concerns that may differ from state to state
- Limited accessibility to electronic equipment e.g. telephone, tablet, computer) required for telehealth visits or connectivity problems
Despite the challenges telehealth or telemedicine is faced with, it is safe to say that using technology for healthcare is no longer a fashion statement. The pandemic has changed people’s perspectives and attitudes towards telehealth doctor visits and nudged it towards an upward trajectory. However, the major issue at hand is how to optimize the use of telehealth. The coming years will be focused on optimizing home-based and preventive healthcare, and more than anything, overcoming the security-related concerns.