The Future of Telehealth

The future of telehealth has once again become a key area of interest for investors and healthcare providers since the waning of the pandemic. Key trends in technology will continue to impact the future of telehealth services.

In July 2021, McKinsey found that telehealth usage had stabilized 38X more than before the pandemic[1]. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Telehealth usage increased by more than 154% in late March 2020 compared to the same time in 2019 [2]. Furthermore, according to the Fortune Business Insight forecasts, the telehealth industry will be worth more than USD 397 billion by 2027 [3].

Seven Trends Driving the Future of Telehealth

1. Growing Willingness from Patients

Telehealth and virtual care use skyrocketed during the pandemic. In 2021, 36% of patients used telehealth, up 420% from 2019 [4]. McKinsey’s 2021 report also stated that 76% of patients are interested in using telehealth in the future [1]. In a research published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, more than half of those polled said they would use telehealth to refill prescriptions, prepare for an appointment, review test results, or receive instruction [5].

The future of telehealth will be impacted by patients adopting telehealth for various reasons. Some top reasons would be convenience, rapid access to treatment, and reduced exposure to other ailments. As a result, telehealth will likely be expanded by healthcare providers and insurance companies.

2. Increased Interest among Insurers

The future of telehealth will also include a growing acceptance of telehealth among insurers. Virtual primary care plans will provide consumers with convenient and affordable preventive and basic healthcare options. The popularity of telehealth will continue to drive insurers and providers away from the once-popular fee-for-service paradigm toward a value-based care approach.

Insurers may also make it simpler for patients to use telehealth for non-emergency treatments. Healthcare organizations, as the commercial payors of healthcare systems, cannot afford to fall behind.

3. Chronic Care Improvements

Heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, lung disease, diabetes, and stroke problems affect one-third of the world’s population [6]. Lifestyle changes and preventative treatment can usually prevent and cure these ailments. Many chronic patients do not finish their treatment, take or renew their repeat medications, or attend monthly follow-up appointments to manage their symptoms. Non-compliance with the care plan costs the industry billions of dollars [7].

Telehealth can reduce treatment costs and improve patient compliance in various ways. It would eliminate lengthy and frequent waits in doctors’ offices. This ease of communication is a primary incentive for the future of telehealth. It also makes it more likely that patients will visit the physician early and reduce the risk of future complications.

4. Increased Emphasis on Mental Health

Mental health diseases affect more than 10% of the world’s population [8]. Lockdowns, isolation, and fear of the unknown increased anxiety and depression during the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic affected mental health services in 93% of nations [9]. Patients increasingly saw their support groups dissolve, clinic visits terminated, and their options for symptom relief became extremely restricted.

Therapists, counselors, and doctors quickly turned to video conferencing to continue treating patients. Teletherapy and telepsychiatry, which began as a response to this need, will likely become mainstream treatments, furthering the future of telehealth.

5. Remote Patient Monitoring and Wearable Technologies

As chronic diseases become more prevalent, integrated data sharing leads to the next telehealth trend, wearable technology. These devices collect real-time health metrics, including activity and glucose levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep cycles.

Doctors can offer better diagnoses and recommendations with more data on patients’ daily lives. Care teams can intervene immediately when connected to a secure telemedicine platform and electronic health data. However, wearable technology and data exchange with healthcare professionals will only increase when patients trust the security and privacy precautions. Moreover, the technology and platforms must be easy to use for good adoption rates.

6. Provider Shortages

As generations age, more Americans require healthcare. Pre-pandemic healthcare worker shortages have intensified. Frontline employees are exhausted and considering alternative careers. The typical physician takes roughly 10-15 years to complete their school, which adds to the shortage.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a 37,800–124,000 physician shortage in general and specialty care by 2034 [10]. The technology’s work-life balance promise will impact the future of telehealth. It will also help reach more patients with fewer healthcare workers. Several innovative pilot programs have been launched to extend the advantages of specialized experts over a greater territory.

7. Greater Investments

Telehealth will be impossible to implement without the necessary technology infrastructure. According to McKinsey, venture capitalist investment in virtual care and digital health was three times more in 2020 than in 2017 [1].

This bodes well for the future of telehealth; technological investments will reduce workforce stress and provide better patient care. As patients get more focused and responsive to value-based care, they will turn more to telehealth. This will further expand the market without wearing out healthcare staff and even motivate people to explore a career in healthcare.

The Future of Telehealth: Beyond 2023

With enhanced diagnostic tools, device integration, and data interoperability, telehealth will provide a real-time ecosystem for patients and physicians. Often, providers seek patient health information from various systems, resulting in an incomplete picture of the patient’s journey.

Telemedicine envisions a future where patients and clinicians can easily access medical data, insights, and personalized recommendations. This would allow for more meaningful discussions, treatment plans, and increased confidence in the patient-provider relationship. Given current telehealth trends, it is not hard to imagine a future where telehealth is the primary care delivery model.

References

  1. Bestsennyy, Oleg, Greg Gilbert, Jennifer Rost, and Alex Harris. “Telehealth: A Quarter-Trillion-Dollar Post-COVID-19 Reality?” McKinsey & Company. Accessed January 23, 2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality.
  2. Koonin, Lisa M., and CDC. “Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence …” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 30, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943a3.htm.
  3. Telemedicine Market Size, Share, Growth & Trends [2020-2027]. “Telemedicine Market Size, Share, Growth & Trends [2020-2027].” Accessed January 23, 2023. https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/telemedicine-market-101067.
  4. Reynolds, Keith A. “Insurers Embracing Virtual First Plans.” Medical Economics. Accessed January 23, 2023. https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/insurers-embracing-virtual-first-plans.
  5. “Patient Preferences for Telehealth Services in a Large Multispecialty Practice – PubMed,” January 18, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33461397/.
  6. Noncommunicable diseases. “Non-Communicable Diseases,” September 16, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases.
  7. Iuga, Aurel O, and Maura J McGuire. “Adherence and Health Care Costs.” PubMed Central (PMC), February 20, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934668/.
  8. Dattani, Saloni, Hannah Ritchie, and Max Roser. “Mental Health.” Our World in Data. Accessed January 23, 2023. https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health.
  9. COVID-19 disrupting mental health services in most countries, WHO survey. “COVID-19 Disrupting Mental Health Services in Most Countries, WHO Survey,” October 5, 2020. https://www.who.int/news/item/05-10-2020-covid-19-disrupting-mental-health-services-in-most-countries-who-survey.
  10. “AAMC Report Reinforces Mounting Physician Shortage,” June 11, 2021. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/press-releases/aamc-report-reinforces-mounting-physician-shortage.

 

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