Coronavirus has increased the demand for telehealth. Patients actively distancing themselves can gain access to healthcare providers without visiting an office—decreasing the risks of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Telehealth isn’t just helpful for avoiding the coronavirus. It’s also a streamlined solution to one of the most dreaded parts about seeing a doctor—the waiting room. Patients do not have to sacrifice hours at the doctor waiting for a 10–15-minute consultation. With telehealth, they can wait on the phone at home or work while doing other tasks.
The forecast for telehealth impacts medical professionals and healthcare providers across all fields. Learn more about how patients are using virtual appointments and why you need to pay attention to this growing trend.
How the Pandemic Made Telehealth Mainstream
The use of video checkups and online consultations aren’t new, but the adoption of these virtual healthcare services has been slow across the country. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and everything changed. Industry experts have highlighted a few key criteria that caused this adoption lag—and why the pandemic has managed to overcome these obstacles.
“There were 2 barriers that impacted the lack of adoption, or the slowness of adoption, before the pandemic hit,” Arielle Trzcinski, an analyst at Forrester, says. “Cost… availability… and… [the relationship factor]. If a patient was able to see their existing provider, they were much more likely to use the service.”
While many patients would have been interested in telemedicine services, the perceived cost kept them from using it. Medical practitioners also avoided the service because of the perceived equipment expenses and data privacy concerns. This hesitation limited the overall availability, so many patients who wanted to see a doctor virtually couldn’t.
The doctor-patient relationship is the final factor that contributed to the slow adoption of telemedicine before COVID-19. It can take a while for patients to feel comfortable with a doctor, but once they are, they don’t want to see anyone else. If patients were not able to meet with their preferred doctors virtually, they were less interested in using the service.
After the pandemic began, many doctors’ offices throughout the country scrambled to offer telehealth so they could follow lockdown restrictions and help their patients. No longer could doctors ignore telemedicine, and almost overnight, patients had access to more virtual resources than ever before.
Who Benefits From Telehealth Services?
Telehealth isn’t just for protecting people during the pandemic. It has several benefits for both doctors and patients. It saves time and money while increasing accessibility. For example:
- Patients in rural areas can meet with doctors immediately when they otherwise would have to drive several hours for an appointment.
- Patients who need specialist care can meet with doctors across the country instead of flying or driving to see them.
- Those with chronic conditions can check in with their doctors regularly online instead of missing work for their appointments.
- Working professionals can set up telehealth appointments outside of work hours or during lunch breaks, limiting the amount of time they miss in the office.
- Doctors can meet with more patients each day because of the speed of video calls and flexibility of hours.
Telehealth also plays an important role in improving the appointment process. A patient can set up a pre-screening appointment virtually, so they don’t have to visit a doctor twice. Doctors can also tell patients to go to the emergency room if the illness is severe or to stay inside if the illness is mild. The goal of telemedicine is to increase the accessibility and speed of healthcare service so more people receive treatment.
Telehealth Growth and Adoption in 2020
The number of people (both patients and doctors) who are now open to telehealth services is staggering. In March 2019, Modern Healthcare reported that telehealth adoption had been slow amongst patients, with an uptake of only 1% to 20% when telemedicine options were introduced.
As a whole, patients weren’t used to the idea of telemedicine services, and many physicians were nervous about offering them. Indeed, a similar survey published by American Well in August 2019 found that while 66% of Americans were interested in telehealth, only 8% have actually had a telehealth visit with a doctor.
Consider how this data has changed in 2020. A survey of 2,000 adults by Sykes Enterprises in March 2020 found that 75% of patients knew about the telemedicine services offered by their healthcare provider, and 40% have considered using it but haven’t tried it yet.
Of those who had used the telehealth options provided by their healthcare providers, almost 60% used it more than once, and 37% said they would use it again.
This data bodes well for future adoption rates and long-term telehealth use. If one of the major barriers to adoption was patient awareness, then the pandemic has created an opportunity to increase this significantly. The fact that customers are happy with the experience reflects the idea that they are more likely to continue using telemedicine in the future.
With the issues of perceived cost and availability eliminated, the only question left is whether or not local doctors and healthcare professionals will embrace this service or eliminate it once the pandemic passes.
Investing in the Right Materials
Many healthcare offices have scrambled to set up laptop webcams and conference calling to offer telehealth services. This ingenuity has helped them get online immediately, but the current process isn’t a long-term solution. While some patients will want to return to your office for in-person appointments after the pandemic ends, others will want to continue with the telehealth plan.
Use this time to invest in the right telehealth equipment to create a professional image and make your appointments more effective. Consider investing in lighting so you show up better in the video call or buying a computer with a better microphone so your patients can hear you clearly. Outside of hardware investment, you may want to purchase telehealth software to stay HIPAA compliant and ensure that your patients get the treatment they need.
If you want to improve your telehealth services, you should consider equipment financing for up to $5,000,000 with a loan term of up to 5 years. This funding gives you the capital needed to kickstart your telehealth practice.
Telehealth has been a key factor in protecting healthcare workers and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. This surge in popularity won’t diminish in the future. Investing in the right equipment now can help you better meet the needs of your patients.