Is Telehealth Here to Stay?
Telehealth services, a class of healthcare delivery mechanisms rooted in digital care, have been around since the 1950s. During COVID, telemedicine, a subset of telehealth, took off. But it took a global pandemic to escalate our adoption of telehealth services. During COVID, telemedicine, which is a subset of telehealth, really took off.
McKinsey says by April 2020 telehealth utilization was 78 times higher than just two months before the pandemic. Today, nearly 50% of the U.S. population uses video conferencing to receive care. Will this trend continue? Is telehealth really here to stay?
The Doctor Will See You Now—On Your Phone
Telemedicine visits stabilized at rates 38 times higher than before the pandemic. For example, behavioral health visits increased during COVID, and these tools were extremely helpful for triaging sick patients while keeping them out of medical practice waiting rooms. Today digital services are beneficial whether you are a parent with a sick child at 2 am or a post-surgical patient with a question about wound care.
McKinsey calls telehealth “a quarter-trillion-post-COVID-19 reality.” Telemedicine has been joined by other virtual healthcare services under the telehealth banner, including:
- Clinical and commercial wearable devices.
- Secure instant messaging, emails, and texts.
- Patient portals.
While the digitization of healthcare is relatively new, telemedicine and the virtual visit have been around for more than five decades. Some of the biggest roadblocks to adoption came from Medicare and the federal government. During the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) temporarily lowered roadblocks, such as geographic requirements for how the services are used. Many of those restrictions have been lifted permanently now, setting the stage for telemedicine and other virtual services to become the norm.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has some predictions for telehealth in 2023. They say:
- Telehealth tools will continue to improve. The technologies will become easier to use as companies spend more money to make these applications more secure and seamless.
- The industry will consolidate toward an “aggregated, all-in-one technology.”
- We will see more remote sensors to manage patients with chronic diseases. Internet of Things (IoT) devices will become a regular part of patient care. These wearable remote sensors track patient vitals to manage chronic diabetes, heart, and lung conditions, and more.
- Regulation and government reimbursement will continue to be a hot topic. One big issue will be licensure for treating patients across state lines with telemedicine.
- More money will flow into digital innovation in healthcare. This is perhaps the clearest indicator that telehealth services will continue flourishing as a standard part of patient care.
However, The COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) is set to expire on May 11, 2023, and there seems to be a scramble to extend some of the pandemic-related flexibilities involving telehealth. On March 1, 2023, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released two notices of proposed rulemaking to allow some of those flexibilities to continue, but are nevertheless more restrictive than what has been permitted since the PHE went into effect. One proposed rule will no longer permit telehealth providers to prescribe controlled substances if the patient never had an in-person examination, subject to limited exceptions. Another proposed rule would expand the situations where doctors may prescribe buprenorphine, used in pain and withdrawal management.
Is telehealth here to stay? In short, the answer is yes. However, the future of healthcare dictates a hybrid model of care delivery. An article in Medical Economics says, “Telehealth will remain a pivotal component of healthcare delivery now and in the years to come.”
MedSource Consultants routinely screens providers for their experience with these tools. If you are a healthcare provider looking for administrative or clinical resources to add to your team in Boston, MA; Milwaukee, WI; Chicago, IL or other parts of the United States, we can help.