The pandemic caused a considerable spike in digital health solutions such as virtual visits, mobile apps, wearables, etc., grouped by the term “telehealth.” Due to fear of the virus, government shutdowns and regulations, and the social determinants of health were the only way some practices could reach their patients. In fact, at the start of the pandemic, 30.1% of all visits took place virtually, and the weekly number of appointments increased 23-fold compared to the pre-pandemic period.1 In this post, we will discuss different types of telehealth and their benefits, along with statistics and their impact on patients. 

 

Main Types of Telehealth

Patients today like to feel connected with their health—they want access to their records, involvement in decision-making, and care available to them on their own time. Telehealth makes this possible. Here are three essential virtual solutions:

 

mHealth and Wearables

Mobile apps and wearable enable patients to view their health 24/7. Many different apps and devices are available, including smartwatches that track and analyze data such as heart rate and calorie loss, wearable glucose sensors for diabetics, period and fertility management apps for women, internal devices such as pacemakers and much more. Providers have access to these devices/apps; this way, they can keep tabs on their vital signs and progress. They also receive alerts when a traumatic or adverse event occurs. The wearable market has been continually growing over the years, and experts expect it to expand at a rate of 26.8% from 2021 to 2028.2

Patient Portals  

Portals give patients insider knowledge of their health and records. Portals can be a source of empowerment as certain ones allow them to pay their bills, schedule appointments online, and even chat with their physicians. Having all their information in one place helps them better understand their health and become more engaged in their care, which is a huge factor in their well-being. 

 

Virtual Visits

Virtual visits exploded during the height of the COVID-19. Before the pandemic, only 43% of practices offered telehealth options. Now, 95% of providers have adopted a virtual team.3 Whether you need a rash, mole, or skin condition checked out, have questions about COVID-19 or certain medications, or want to talk, all can be accomplished via video chat. Even as government regulations loosened, many patients still prefer this medium, regardless of the specialty. Behavioral health has the most significant rate of telehealth, with 40% still seeing their psychiatrists online.

 

Benefits of Virtual Care

Virtual care gives patients the best of both worlds, putting their health in their hands and allowing them to take more responsibility while physicians continually monitor their progress remotely. Telehealth can bring benefits to both the patient and the provider: 

  1. Cost-efficient

As we know, healthcare can get very expensive, even with insurance. Yet, virtual visits are generally much cheaper than in-person ones. In 2017, the average cost of a telehealth appointment was $79 instead of $146 for an in-person visit—nearly double the amount.5 The price, however, varies per specialty. 

  1. Convenience

Sitting in traffic and in the waiting room with other sick people for an extended period just for your physician to tell you that you are okay can be very tedious. For some patients, it is hard to go to the doctor at all based on where you live, your job/school schedule, or with household responsibilities, like taking care of young children. Telehealth can erase these problems. Schedule an appointment over the phone or online, join the virtual waiting room, and receive treatment from your own home! This saves them a lot of time, time that could be spent studying for a big test, making dinner for the kids, or just catching up on the TV shows filling up your DVR.

  1. Communication and Engagement

According to a recent study, 83% of patients feel they have strong communication with their providers online.6 This is due to several reasons. From the patient perspective, seeing a doctor on a computer screen from your home may be more comforting than being in a large facility with daunting medical equipment and strangers walking around in scrubs and lab coats. They also feel like physicians make more eye contact with them on screen, as they may usually just be staring at the EHR for the majority of an in-person visit. From the doctor’s perspective, it allows them to see inside the patient’s living space, giving them a better sense of their hobbies, surroundings, and lifestyle. For example, they may see many sports trophies and/or memorabilia on the walls and start a conversation about a particular team or sport. Furthermore, the cleanliness of a room can tell a lot about a person.

 

Usage and Satisfaction Rates

Historically, patients living in rural communities with limited access to care have utilized telehealth the most. But the pandemic turned even the world’s largest cities into ghost towns, making it a vital tool for people of all demographics.

While technology is more often utilized by the young, seniors are taking full advantage of its efficiency as well. Since elders are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, they embraced telehealth at first as a safety precaution. In the first three months of the pandemic, 26% of people over 50 met with their physician virtually, jumping up from 4% previously. In the same report from a year ago, 45% of adults 50 and older reported they would be interested in a telehealth appointment in the future.7 

Although moving to a senior living center may be the best option for some, most would rather stay in their own homes, which may be a reality with technology. Providers can keep tabs on their older patients by giving them wearable devices and meeting with them virtually. This worked for one nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania. By having frail elders wear monitoring devices that alert nurses to falls, they could reduce the percentage of people moving into nursing homes by 8%.8

Below are the usage rates broken down by age and race:

 Source: https://www.jmir.org/2021/5/e23905/

 

Currently, 13%-17% of visits across all specialties occur via video chat.9 The percentage of appointments conducted via telehealth may never be as high as pandemic levels. Still, virtual care will remain the biggest fad in the industry for a long time, with 83% of people wanting to continue using the technology even after COVID-19 has been contained.10 If your organization wants to improve its customer reach, patient satisfaction rates, and overall health outcomes, it’s time you set up an effective virtual team.

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REFERENCES:

 

  1. Vaidya, Anuja. “Telehealth Use Varies by Specialty, Patient Demographics, Two New Studies Show.” MedCity News, 4 Feb. 2021. 
  2. “Wearable Medical Devices Market Size Report, 2021-2028.” Wearable Medical Devices Market Size Report, 2021-2028, Jan. 2021, grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/wearable-medical-devices-market.
  3. Demeke, Hanna B., et al. “Trends in Use of Telehealth among Health Centers during the Covid-19 Pandemic – United STATES, June 26–November 6, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Feb. 2021, cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7007a3.htm.
  4. Bestsennyy, Oleg, et al. “Telehealth: A Quarter-Trillion-Dollar Post COVID-19 Reality?” McKinsey & Company, 9 July 2021, mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality.
  5. Ivey, Ana Gascon. “How Much Does a Telehealth Visit Cost?” GoodRx, 6 Nov. 2020, goodrx.com/telehealth/how-much-does-telehealth-cost.
  6. Nelson, Hannah. “COVID-19 Telehealth Delivery Reaps High Patient Satisfaction.” MHealthIntelligence, 15 Apr. 2021.
  7. Buis, Lorraine. “Telehealth Use among Older Adults before and during Covid-19.” National Poll on Healthy Aging, 17 Aug. 2020, healthyagingpoll.org/reports-more/report/telehealth-use-among-older-adults-and-during-covid-19.
  8. Potyraj, Julie. “Telemedicine: A Promising Model for Senior Health Care.” AgingCare.com, 7 Sept. 2018, agingcare.com/articles/telemedicine-a-promising-model-for-senior-health-care-191659.htm.
  9. Reynolds, Keith A. “McKinsey Sees Possible $250 Billion Shift toward Virtual Healthcare.” Medical Economics, 13 July 2021, medicaleconomics.com/view/mckinsey-sees-possible-250-billion-shift-toward-virtual-healthcare.
  10. Zimiles, Andrei. “Four New Statistics That Prove That Telemedicine Isn’t Just a Pandemic Fad.” Medical Economics, 8 July 2020, medicaleconomics.com/view/four-new-statistics-that-prove-that-telemedicine-isn-t-just-a-pandemic-fad.
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