Is Telehealth Really Here To Stay?

Let's start with some statistics.

  • According to a Mckinsey study, one year after the first Covid-19 spike, in Feb'21, nearly 13 - 17% of all outpatient visits continued to be through Telehealth. This is almost 38 times the claims that used to be made earlier. [1]

  • Data from FAIRhealth shows that 4.9% of all claim lines in the US continued to be through telemedicine in Dec'21, after peaking to 13% in Apr'20. These were just 0.24% of national claim lines in Jan'20, before the first wave of Covid-19 struck. [2][3][4]

  • Analysts such as GMI are predicting that telemedicine will become a $186bn business by 2027 and will continue to grow at 18%. [5]

These statistics may have seemed far-fetched just two years ago to even the most ardent supporter of Telehealth before Covid-19 struck. But to anyone who has been sick or has needed care during the pandemic, none of this will come as a surprise.

Dark as the clouds of Covid-19 were, they indeed had a silver lining: they gave Telehealth a chance to prove its worth to people desperately in need of medical and psychological support. While studies had long shown its efficacy, this was a chance for telehealth to prove its worth in the real world, and boy did it shine!

Today, surveys show that nearly 63% of those who used telehealth services during the pandemic are willing to increase their usage in the coming years.

What Prompted This Change?

Consumer Willingness

When in-person healthcare was completely out of bounds during the peak of Covid-19, telemedicine provided respite and much-needed help, and consumers showed a willingness to adapt that many people thought was not possible.

For example, Lyndi Church, Medical executive and COO of Caring Hands healthcare center in rural Oklahoma remarked that despite poor internet connection in their area, most patients appreciated the services being provided through telemedicine. Customer willingness took a huge leap during this time, and it has stayed positive even after Covid has started receding.

Not just physical health, but even mental health saw a shift towards the tele medium, and according to Dr.  Ashley Batastini, from the DoCEPR at the University of Memphis, it proved its worth by giving equally good outcomes.

In fact, the sea change in consumer adaptability is so wast that a Mckinsey survey suggests that 40% of respondents will continue to keep using telehealth options despite 72% of them having already joined back work.

Provider Willingness

Most healthcare institutions and workers were initially reluctant about telemedicine and its widespread adaptability for services that have traditionally been considered very touch-based. After all, how do I check a fever online? How can I see the patients' tongue when the internet connection is poor?

But as the pandemic hit, all of these objections vanished in thin air. With no means to physically meet patients, providers quickly adapted and learned the ways and techniques to make accurate assessments despite barriers and challenges.

But what began as compulsion has today turned into good practice. As Mary Zelazny, CEO of Finger Lakes Community Health put it: it's all about managing the change, getting people to do the same things in a different way. 

She put her finger on the pulse when she said that telemedicine has improved the efficiency of her center and saved on costs - two things that are music to the ears of any CEO. So now, Telehealth is here to stay because CEOs across America have understood its power to improve profitability while continuing to provide quality healthcare.

Regulatory Environment For Access And Reimbursement

In March 2020, the Trump administration took the call to let Medicare and insurers provide reimbursement for telehealth services. Earlier, this was only possible for certain rare cases. 

This regulatory change ushered in a complete reversal of attitudes towards telemedicine as a viable alternative for contact-based healthcare. As stated earlier, close to 5% of claims being filed even today are telehealth-related.

Come 2022, and most states continue to keep those "Temporary" policies in place, with no sign of turning back. In fact, close to 1,000 bills are currently being pursued in state legislatures that aim to expand the scope or to allow the coverage of telehealth services through insurers.

Foreseeable Challenges 

While telemedicine has grown by leaps and bounds, and venture capital is beginning to flow thick and fast in this field, there are two major challenges that still cause concern:

  • Data privacy of information shared through unsecured networks

  • The disparity in internet services and mobile penetration by race, age, region, and income levels

  • Continuance of regulatory changes and enhancement of the same.

  • Lower pay for doctors for telehealth appointments versus in-clinic ones

What The Future Looks Like

It is clear to everyone that Telehealth is here to stay, but in what form will depend on how things evolve from here. Most healthcare experts believe that Telehealth will become more and more integrated as part of an integrated and hybrid model of healthcare for the future, where both teleconsultation and in-clinic appointments will become part of the same treatment course.

Telehealth and telemedicine will also evolve into new avenues such as online cognitive testing and remote research management.

The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet!

[1] Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?

[2] Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, Dec. 2021

[3] Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, Apr. 2020

[4] Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, Jan. 2020

[5] Telemedicine Market Size & Share, Growth Outlook 2021-2027

[6] Telehealth Is Here To Stay — Long After The Pandemic