2020 was a disruptive year for the healthcare industry. Telehealth is no longer an additional add-on for most practices. It has become an indispensable part of the healthcare offering. More than one telehealth platform observed a growth of 500% because of the global pandemic. This is not surprising considering multiple studies have shown that both patients and practitioners rate the telehealth experience 80% (or more) satisfactory. However, as restrictions (such as lockdowns) were slowly lifted and the use of telehealth did not decrease in one fell swoop as many people predicted. As the world is slowly adapting to the new digital realities, more and more people are turning to telemedicine. 2021 will mark the year in which telehealth platform usage will become even more commonplace.

What is Telehealth?

It includes the tools used to enhance and deliver healthcare and non-healthcare services. According to this definition services provided by ancillary staff and health, educators are included. It is different from telemedicine since it is the actual delivery of healthcare services through telemedicine software. Telehealth is not a specific service like telemedicine There are four types of services live video conferences, asynchronous meetings, remote patient monitoring, and mobile patient monitoring.

What is a telehealth platform?

It refers to the software that helps physicians to set up their virtual practice and allows patients to access these services. It can include telehealth software, mobile apps, or even portals. Generally, telehealth platforms tend to offer similar features like high-quality video conferencing capabilities, encrypted chats, online scheduling, and integrated billing services.

How telehealth changed healthcare

Telehealth was essential during the pandemic. When social distancing and lockdowns were imposed in March 2020 the delivery of healthcare via a telehealth platform allowed hospitals to maintain the continuity of healthcare whilst eliminating contact and the probability of the virus spreading. It was also essential when the ICUs across the country experienced an overload of patients. The risk of disease transmission coupled with the increase in hospital admissions overloaded the hospital’s system. Hence, by using telehealth older physicians belonging to high-risk groups and those with young children at home were able to monitor patients in the ICU remotely to supplement their in-person clinical services during the pandemic.

Telehealth’s effect beyond the pandemic

However, even before the outbreak of COVID 19 telemedicine has been slowly and steadily changing key aspects of healthcare. For example, way medical devices, clinical research, and physician training have all been affected. For example, the emergence of smartwatches led to an improvement in the way consumer health could be tracked. Obviously when they were initially launched their accuracy could not be compared to medical devices.

Nonetheless, with the improvements in technology, they have become more and more critical in healthcare. Before smartwatches heart, patients kept track of their heartbeat through pacemakers. Now thanks to Bluetooth and mobile apps they can check their heartbeat more easily. Moreover, physicians have also been able to monitor patients remotely with much more ease. This has made it easier for patients to understand their health which in turn, has encouraged them to follow their regimes and medication prescribed by the physicians.

Advantages of using a telehealth platform

Accessible

A telehealth platform makes it easy for physicians, practices, and hospitals to offer their services anywhere, anytime. It removes geographical constrain as patients can consult with physicians that may not live in the locality. There are no delays since patients are not required to wait for hours to access healthcare. Finally, patients can schedule at their ease, a telehealth platform allows patients to schedule at their ease and may also automatically update if there are any delays.

Saves time and money

Commuting and taking time off from work is a long and complicated process for patients. The loss of time, productivity, and the nuances of obtaining a leave often deters them from getting health checkups in the first place. A telehealth platform does not only make it easy to manage their time but it is also easy to perform various pre-evaluation of patients. For example, many practices perform a pre-surgical evaluation through a telehealth platform which has removed the need for the patient to constantly commute and consult with an anesthesiologist or pharmacist.

At-home management

Emergency care requiring in-person visits only constituted 2.2% of patients that incurred telehealth services in 2020. Most patients chose to use a telehealth platform to deal with non-life-threatening conditions. Telehealth has demonstrated that they do not require in-person visits and can easily be managed from home through virtual appointments.

Medical Records

Platforms make it easy for physicians to access patient history. However, it also provides patients the opportunity to go through their electronic health records. Being able to interact with their medical information gives patients the ability to understand their diagnosis. As a result, they are much more likely to follow whatever medicine or lifestyle their physician has prescribed them.

Variety of options

Since the demand for telehealth has increased so has the number of telehealth companies. Each of these offers a unique telehealth platform for both patients and practitioners with a wide array of options to choose from. For example, certain companies may offer video and voice call appointments while others may send devices such as ear examiners to send a live feed to the doctor. Some may even have telehealth kiosks in the vicinity for a quick checkup.

Security

With the widespread skepticism of many patients and industry experts who fear patients’ record mishaps, every telehealth platform ensures they are HIPAA compliant and encrypt the information shared between healthcare providers and patients.

Postoperative care

Patent monitoring after discharge is critical but may not always be possible. A telehealth platform makes it easy for patients to be monitored remotely and prevents any hospital readmissions or emergency treatments. Practices use telemedicine to examine wounds after 48 hours, evaluate any post-operative issues, and finally, carry out routine post-operative appointments.

Equal access to healthcare

In rural areas in which there are a limited number of resources, or minorities generally respond well to a telehealth platform. The ability to access the same resources that can be found in urban areas is extremely appealing. At the same time, it also ensures that patients in both urban and rural areas have equal access to healthcare.

Telemedicine Challenges

Some of the challenges of healthcare include the fact that they can not replace certain procedures. Patients still need to get laboratory tests done blood tests, CT scans, x-ray and the like can not be replaced with telemedicine. However, telehealth can contribute to making healthcare more accessible to patients by making appointments with physicians more flexible.

Though medical records are digitized and fairly easy to access sharing information across hospital systems remains difficult. Particularly, because there are different ways used to sort and encode the same patient information. There is no standard way that patient information is used in. This has made it difficult for some doctors to make sense of records.

It is also challenging to forge a strong connection between patients and physicians. For example, during a telephone consultation, the patient can not see the physician. When patients engage in video call conferences, professionalism from the physicians is critical. For example, if there are background noise patients may be concerned their privacy is not kept intact. Hence, it is difficult for patients to completely trust a physician they have never encountered before.

Touch is considered the golden standard to establish an accurate diagnosis and is used to comfort patients. As of present, there is no medical device that can be used to palpate a patient so that physicians can get an idea of what is going on specifically in every body part. However, several devices have been developed to replace various aspects of physical exams.

Telehealth platform for 2021

During the year 2020, telehealth visits escalated by 50% during the first quarter. However, it is surprising that only 5.2% (and later 16.2% after the 1st week of march) of telehealth visits were COVID related.

Though traditionally, the use of telemedicine platforms is more popular among physicians practicing in hospitals many specialties have also reaped the benefits of using telehealth. Through in-person visits may be necessary sometimes, preliminary consultations with physicians can easily be carried out through telehealth. Some of the trends that will continue affecting the industry are.

The increased role of nursing staff

Nurses have been significantly impacted by telemedicine as remote monitoring and the use of technology have become more commonplace. Studies indicate that there is a need to retrain the nurses to help them familiarize themselves with various telehealth platforms. Their participation in research is also imperative to develop better evidence-based guidelines using telehealth.

Greater use by Millennials

The age group that frequented telehealth services was aged 30 to 79 years old. Patients younger than 19 and older than 79 constituted only 7.4% of telehealth patients. This is not surprising as millennials are the first true digital natives and are much more comfortable with technology. A telehealth platform is nothing new to them.  Millennials also do not emphasize how healthcare is delivered, they want it to be effective and instantaneous which traditional healthcare does not deliver.

Shortage of telehealth

The increase in the interest in telemedicine is reflected in the search volume of Google TrendsTM. As of March 2020 and June, 2020 searches for telemedicine reached their peak. Just in New York City alone, the number of consultations through telemedicine increased up to 683%. However, the growing interest exceeds the existing telehealth capacity in the country.

Chronic Disease Management

Hospitals will remain cautious and will continue to delay in-person care for patients with chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes. Hence, they will continue to monitor them remotely both through a telehealth platform and the use of wearable devices such as smartwatches to keep track of their vitals.

Increased focus on mental health services

Not only is mental health app usage skyrocketing but virtual consultations with qualified professionals also are. Patients are starting to place a greater focus on mental well-being. Besides, with the increase in the rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketing, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are needed more than ever.

Moving away from traditional payment models

Changes in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remain polarizing and are not likely to take place. Instead, the Biden administration is more likely to place more emphasis on modernizing the healthcare sector. Particularly, a change in payment policies is expected. They are likely to leave fee-for-service reimbursement behind. Instead, the focus will be low-cost, high-quality delivery models to transition to more value-based healthcare.

Increased use of analytics

With telehealth platform usage on the rise, the data generated is likely to be handled via software. With the use of sophisticated analytics, telehealth providers are likely to implement software solutions that use data to provide recommendations to support treatment plans. It is also likely to be used by researchers to develop effective, data-driven treatments.

The steady use of the telehealth platform is not likely to stop. The advantages it provides such as accessibility, at-home management of chronic diseases, postoperative care, and equal access to healthcare are undeniable. Current trends indicate that there will be an increased role of nursing staff in the delivery of healthcare, a greater focus on mental health services, and the continuity of chronic disease management from home. Moreover, the pending changes in the payment models and increased use of analytics are also likely to contribute to the continued growth of telemedicine.

Not sure if telehealth is right for you? Outsquare MD is offering a free demo of our telehealth platform. It emulates all the tools you need to set up a virtual practice. From solo, specialized practices and hospitals, Outsquaremd provides a 360-degree solution for all virtual care providers. From, paid promotion setting up your virtual practice has never been easier! We even provide free medical billing services. Contact us at (516) 6304 025 or visit our office 45 West John Street, Suite 205 Hicksville NY-11801.

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