Telehealth has had a big impact on the healthcare industry over the course of 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses of all industries to innovate and rely on technology in new ways throughout many aspects of our lives.
While telehealth existed and was utilized before the pandemic, there is no doubt that it became more widely used and accepted as a result of lockdowns.
In 2020, after the onset of the pandemic, 46% of patients reported using telehealth for some visits, compared to 11% in 2019, just a year before.
As it has become more utilized, telehealth has caused changes to the healthcare industry.
While we have followed wider healthcare digital transformation trends within the industry, today we’re taking some time to take a look at the overall impact that telehealth has had on healthcare, especially more recently.
One of the biggest ways that telehealth has impacted the healthcare industry as a whole is because of convenience.
Gone are the days of having to leave your home and sit in a waiting room to see a doctor—61% said the time spent in the virtual waiting room was also shorter than an in-person visit.
Now you no longer have to venture from the comfort of your home when you’re not feeling well or are in need of a simple consultation.
The extent to which telehealth services have been embraced makes capitalizing on this trend as a patient even easier, and indeed as patients become more comfortable with telemedicine, it will become a key competitive differentiator between providers.
Some services offer general primary healthcare, whereas other companies may specialize in certain issues—there are even companies that offer care for specific genders.
Even fields of medicine like dentistry have begun to venture into the telehealth space, creating a new sub-category called teledentistry.
Specifically due to the pandemic, many medical offices were forced into expanding or even laying the groundwork for their telehealth services as well.
With people forced to stay at home for the health and safety of the wider public, many health-related businesses took advantage of this opportunity to innovate and invest in the future of care.
Truly Private Consultation
Another benefit of telehealth services is the increased amount of confidentiality that patients have.
A 2019 paper assessing privacy and security in telehealth found that the vast majority of providers had access controls, authentication policies, and data backup plans for handling patient data, suggesting privacy is both a core concern and something practitioners invest heavily in. There is still room for improvement, however, specifically with regard to encryption, secure networks, and data transmission.
Telehealth has had a big impact in this regard and providers should be conscious of the fact that with the benefits that can be gained from telehealth, there are also responsibilities that go beyond just having data backed up.
Providers should audit their business and ensure that the security protocols they have in place are up to standard with the relevant compliance laws.
Most medical providers will be familiar with HIPAA, and they should consider whether using telehealth for their practice means they need to adopt additional cybersecurity standards to protect their patients’ information—especially when using programs that have had issues with security in the past.
If you’re unsure whether you have the correct cybersecurity policies in place, consider investing in a cybersecurity risk audit.
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In any event, because of this use of technology and the privacy that comes along with it, people will also be more inclined to seek help and care that they might otherwise not have.
This can include treatment of both physical and mental ailments, and for people who live in rural areas, this added aspect of privacy can prove to be extremely valuable.
The trend towards telehealth has also proven how helpful technology is in the healthcare field and shown why it is important that healthcare companies continually make investments in technology.
Not only are the technological tools healthcare professionals use important, but there also needs to be an investment in the technology behind them to continue to increase proficiency and protect patients.
In 2018, the global market for healthcare cloud technology was worth $20 billion. By 2025, that figure is expected to almost double to around $55 billion. The North American market alone is worth over $8.5 billion.
For example, without proper protection against data leakages in place, an entire patient portfolio could be put in jeopardy. This means your patient’s personal information, medical history, insurance information and more could be on the line without the proper systems.
While this is something that larger healthcare companies should already have in place, it is also something that smaller companies and independent practices might struggle with or not have as a priority.
A patient’s data and information is just as important to protect as their health. As such, the healthcare industry must keep technology and security at the forefront of their future plans when modernizing processes and digitizing their systems.
As we mentioned earlier, technological growth and innovation should be pursued with one eye on patient protection at all times.
Creating More Opportunities
One of the more significant impacts telehealth has had on the healthcare industry is associated with cost.
We all know that healthcare is expensive and there is a continuing debate on how affordable medical care is.
Telehealth presents an opportunity for more people to get the care they need, at a reduced cost versus getting in person care.
In fact, telehealth can save a patient between $19 to $120 per visit. For use of telehealth over unnecessary emergency room visits, which have indirect costs (typically associated with time and resources used to seem them), the savings are even more.
Two-thirds of ER visits are avoidable. Those unneeded visits cost the healthcare industry and estimated $32 billion per year.
With telehealth, patients are no longer paying the additional fees that come along with an in-office visit, and the associated costs for the provider of providing the patient a setting to physically go to are reduced to zero, as they can visit from their homes.
The potential and opportunity presented because of technology here is huge because it’s essentially opening up care to an entire demographic that would otherwise not be able to get the help they need.
Questions About Access
While telehealth was expanded during COVID-19 to increase access to essential health services, a bigger issue of breadth of access remained.
In fact, probably the biggest concern with telehealth within the healthcare industry comes with the topic of access.
We face a digital divide—some people are fortunate enough to have access to technology and internet services within their home. Others are not quite as lucky. This gap creates a problem for many things, including telehealth.
There is a gap between consumers’ interest in telehealth (76%) and actual usage (46%).
A digital divide and telehealth do not mix, because you need the technology part to get to the healthcare part.
This means that low income and rural areas are often left out of receiving telehealth when they are usually the ones who need it and could benefit from it most.
Low income and rural areas are often the places where it is hardest to see a doctor when you need to. They are also the areas where people struggle most to afford proper care.
While telehealth is a solution to those issues, the problem of getting those people the access they need remains.
Until there is equal access to the tools needed for telehealth services, which is a larger conversation entirely, this technology cannot have as great an equal impact on the industry, and if the divide remains, there will continue to be access issues that necessitate the need for in-person visits.
The Bottom Line
While telehealth services have been expanded and improved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still issues that need to be addressed.
It is true that there are many benefits to utilizing this technology within the healthcare field, such as on-demand service and a reduced cost.
However, we won’t truly know the complete impact telehealth can have on the industry as a whole until issues with access are addressed.
For the time being, however, the benefits of telehealth are clear and the industry will continue to grow at its current rate for the foreseeable future.
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