Despite the fact that telehealth has been technologically viable for decades, it is just now being more widely used. Telehealth is described as the provision of healthcare services across a long distance via the use of technology. Patients can use telehealth to get a variety of medical services, including:
- Consultations with primary care providers
- Psychiatric and psychotherapy services
- Speech and physical therapy are two types of treatment.
- Prescriptions and renewals of prescriptions
- Determine whether or not in-person therapy is necessary.
- Even certain emergency services are affected.
We examine how COVID-19 led to the rapid development of telemedicine in this, the first piece in our Future of Telehealth blog series, and give a glimpse into what it may look like when we emerge from quarantine and into a post-COVID-19 future.
Prior to COVID-19, there was telehealth.
Currently, 76 percent of hospitals in the United States provide telehealth services, up from only 35 percent ten years ago. From March to June of 2019, telehealth visits accounted for only 0.3 percent of all outpatient appointments, according to one research, while from March to June of 2020, telehealth visits accounted for 23.6 percent.
There were several obstacles to the adoption of telemedicine prior to the COVID-19 epidemic. Few insurance policies, for example, funded telehealth visits. Telehealth was almost solely regarded a tool for use in rural regions by Medicare. They required patients to live in a Health Professional Shortage Area or a county outside of a Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Census Bureau. Patients must also get telehealth services in a “qualified facility,” such as a doctor’s office, hospital, skilled nursing facility, or rural health clinic.
Telehealth Adoption Speeded Up
Despite its sluggish start, the public health crisis created by the COVID-19 epidemic hastened the use of telehealth significantly.
On January 20, 2020, the first verified COVID-19 case in the United States was disclosed. There has been over 6.6 million confirmed cases and 196,277 fatalities by September 2020. As a result, the American Academy of Family Physicians stated that using telehealth to provide treatment was an important component of clinic workflow in order to decrease the danger of the virus spreading. Individuals who were symptomatic and possibly contagious and suspected of having COVID-19 needed remote access to care as well as patients who needed preventative care and other sorts of services but did not want to risk exposure.
Aside from the apparent necessity to limit viral propagation, it became important to avoid exposing susceptible individuals who were more likely to suffer negative health effects as a result of COVID-19. During the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth became one of the pillars of care for vulnerable patients.
As part of their interim recommendations for dealing with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised the use of telehealth. In addition, in response to the pandemic, legislation was passed that eased limits on telemedicine, enabling doctors to perform telehealth treatments that were compensated at the same rate as in-person consultations. With the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the US Department of Health and Human Services lifted several Medicare telehealth limitations, including:
- Increasing the number of services that are eligible for telehealth
- Increasing the number of providers that are qualified to deliver telehealth services
- Waiving the requirement that telehealth encounters be initiated from a specified place, such as a clinic that patients would travel to, rather than from their homes.
These recommendations have been accepted by certain payers. In addition, several states have relaxed license requirements for physicians, allowing them to provide telehealth services beyond state boundaries. As a result, several clinics have started their journey towards virtual health care, with the goal of using telehealth in 2020 to better serve their patients. In response to COVID-19, 73 percent of provider’s educated physicians for telehealth, and 74 percent of providers that had previously offered telehealth extended their offers in 2020, according to a study.
Throughout the epidemic, nursing executives from hospitals around the country noted that telemedicine became an important element of patient care. These CEOs also stated that they expected to continue using telehealth’s digital tools once the epidemic ended. Medical professionals are in agreement: When asked whether they thought telehealth was a long-term strategy that will continue beyond COVID-19, 94 percent of respondents said yes. Analysts anticipate that the global telehealth industry will increase from an estimated 38.7 billion dollars in 2020 to roughly 191.7 billion dollars by 2025.
Telehealth In The Future
At the time of writing, the pandemic’s urgency is waning, and telemedicine is no longer necessary as an emergency step to stop COVID-19 from spreading. The crisis has passed, but both healthcare professionals and patients have discovered that telehealth has numerous benefits and may be used to meet a variety of healthcare requirements.
Telehealth has been shown to be effective in the majority of cases, including significant medical problems, according to research. For example, a systematic evaluation of the use of telemedicine for treating chronic heart failure published in 2017 revealed several advantages, including reduced hospital admission rates, shorter hospital stays, and fewer fatalities among individuals who received telemedicine therapy. Telemedicine has been demonstrated to enhance the following outcomes in cancer-specific populations:
- Diagnosis and treatment should be done as soon as possible.
- Care is available.
- Patient comfort is important.