- Telehealth expansion has the potential to increase access to care for individuals who may have difficulty traveling to a physical healthcare facility, such as those who live in rural areas or who have mobility limitations. It can also provide access to specialized care that may not be available locally, improving healthcare equity.
- Expansion in telehealth can also increase efficiency and reduce healthcare costs by reducing the need for in-person visits, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. Additionally, it can help to reduce the spread of infectious diseases by allowing patients to receive care remotely without the risk of exposure to other patients or healthcare workers.
- It has the great potential to provide patient satisfaction and engagement by providing more convenient and flexible options for accessing care. It also has the potential to improve health outcomes by enabling more regular monitoring and management of chronic conditions.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth utilisation increased as patients and healthcare professionals looked for secure access points and methods of delivery. Use of telehealth services for office visits and outpatient care increased overall in April 2020 by 78 times compared to February 2020.
The healthcare industry has seen significant changes in recent years with the introduction of telehealth services. It allows healthcare professionals to provide medical care and health-related services remotely using technology. This technology has transformed the way healthcare is delivered, providing patients with access to quality care from the comfort of their own homes.
Telehealth services have become increasingly popular, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic forced many healthcare providers to shift to telehealth services to continue providing care while minimizing the risk of spreading the virus. This has led to an expansion of telehealth services, which is likely to continue in the future.
The global telehealth market is expected to grow to $559.52 billion by 2027, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.2% from 2020 to 2027.
The expansion of telehealth services
Several elements made it possible for this step-change, which was driven by necessity: 1) More consumer and provider acceptance of telehealth, 2) Greater provider acceptance of telehealth, and 3) Regulatory improvements facilitating better accessibility and reimbursement. Telehealth provided a bridge to care during the pandemic’s tragedy, and it now presents an opportunity to rethink online and hybrid virtual/in-person therapeutic interventions with the aim of enhancing healthcare access, affordability, and outcomes.
Telehealth adoption rates have been increasing rapidly over the past few years, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated its adoption. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020, the use of telehealth services increased by 154% during the pandemic.
Telehealth has been on the rise for the past few years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated its growth. According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, telehealth utilization in the United States increased from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020, and it is projected to account for up to $250 billion of healthcare spending by 2025. It’s hardly a certain that we’ll reach this potential degree of virtual health. It would probably call for expedited restructuring of care pathways and sustained consumer and physician acceptance of virtual modalities.
As we take a look back at telehealth’s development since the first COVID-19 surge and evaluate the ramifications for telehealth and virtual health more generally moving forward. The following conclusions are drawn from our findings:
- Use of telehealth has reached levels that are 38X higher than they were prior to the pandemic. Utilization levels have generally stabilised, ranging from 13 to 17 percent across all specialties, after an initial rise to more than 32 percent of office and outpatient visits taking place via telehealth in April 2020. 2 More than two-thirds of the visits that may be virtualized are represented by this usage.
- Comparable improvements have been made in consumer and provider attitudes regarding telehealth since the time prior to COVID-19. From the high in spring 2020, perceptions and usage have slightly decreased. To sustain consumer and provider adoption of virtual health, some barriers—like perceptions of technological security—remain to be overcome, and models are expected to change to improve the delivery of hybrid virtual and in-person care.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ extension of reimbursable telemedicine codes for the 2021 doctor pricing structure is one instance of a regulatory move that made it simpler for telemedicine to be used more widely and was made permanent. The future of some services, however, that might no longer qualify as waivers after the global health emergency is over, is yet unknown.
With 3X as much venture capitalist funding in digital health in 2020 as it did in 2017, investment in virtual care and digital health, in general, has soared, spurring greater innovation.
With the potential to enhance consumer relationships, access, affordability, and outcomes virtual healthcare designs and business models are evolving and propagating. They are moving from purely “virtual urgent care” to a variety of offerings allowing longitudinal simulated care, incorporation of telehealth with other telehealth solutions, and hybrid virtual/in-person care models.
The expansion of telehealth has also led to the development of new technologies and platforms. Many companies are now offering telehealth software development services, and there are a wide variety of telehealth platforms available to healthcare providers. These platforms often include features such as video conferencing, secure messaging, and electronic health records integration, which make it easier for healthcare providers to deliver care remotely.
A significant increase in the use of telehealth services was enabled by significant policy changes made during the pandemic. From less than 1% of Medicare services prior to the pandemic to a peak of more than 32% of Medicare claims in April 2020 (levelling off to between 13% and 17% by July 2021), telehealth services were utilised significantly more frequently. Almost 45 million telehealth visits were made by 44% of continuously enrolled Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries in the first year of the epidemic.
Access to care was disproportionately increased in urban communities by the large rise of telehealth. Moreover, tele-behavioral health services can assist patients overcome the stigma associated with these treatments and address issues related to the shortage of behavioural health professionals, particularly in more rural, close-knit communities. In 2021, 37% of Americans lived in places where there was a scarcity of mental health specialists.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of HHS have permitted the use of audio-only services—telehealth without live video—since the implementation of COVID-19. Currently, providers are paid by at least 29 state Medicaid programmes for providing audio-only services. The pandemic has increased the likelihood that older, rural, poorer, and minority people have relied more heavily on audio-only services due to restrictions to receiving telehealth services. Patients who identified as Black or Latino, as well as those with lower incomes, had much less access to video services among telehealth users. Policymakers, payers, and healthcare professionals have expressed worry about the inferior quality of audio-only consultations as well as the potential for abuse and fraud against the Medicare programme.
Regarding care quality, preliminary research indicates that telehealth services may be as effective as in-person care in managing chronic conditions and addressing behavioural health concerns. Overall, telehealth services are usually perceived to be satisfactory by patients and clinicians, especially those in remote locations and Medicare recipients. Yet, the efficacy of virtual care differs depending on the illness.
The telehealth flexibilities related to the pandemic gave totally virtual providers—those without physical locations—the chance to provide services to Medicare enrollees and be paid for them. And they’re becoming more prevalent: Venture capital and private equity investments in digital health enterprises reached historic levels in 2021, mostly due to telehealth funding. However, several stakeholders raised worry that this kind of access could further fragment care and jeopardise patient care. These different types of providers can increase Medicare beneficiaries’ access to services.
Changes in telehealth regulations brought on by the pandemic had an impact on beneficiaries’ expenditures and the Medicare program’s costs as well. When compared to the higher rate for office-based services, providers used to be paid at a lower facility rate for the majority of telehealth services, such as those delivered in hospital outpatient departments. This discrepancy was explained by the fact that telemedicine delivery generally resulted in lower practise expenses than in-person care. Yet as the pandemic spread, Medicare and numerous state Medicaid programmes as well as private payers started paying for all telehealth services, including audio-only sessions, at the same rate as in-person care.
Adoption of telehealth
After the initial surge in April 2020, claims for outpatient/office visits that included evaluation and management (E&M) services have reached up to 17 percent total telehealth adoption. From June 2020, its utilisation has been largely constant.
We are also observing diverse telehealth adoption rates across specialties, with psychiatry and drug abuse therapy having the highest penetration rates (50 percent each) (30 percent).
Emerging trends in telehealth
There are several emerging trends in telehealth that are shaping the future of healthcare delivery. Here are some of the key trends:
- Mental Health: Telehealth services for mental health have become increasingly popular, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey by Accenture found that 60% of consumers are interested in virtual mental health services. Teletherapy and virtual support groups are examples of mental health services that have gained popularity. Additionally, a survey by the National Council for Behavioral Health found that 53% of mental health providers increased their use of telehealth during the pandemic.
- Remote Monitoring: Remote monitoring is another emerging trend in telehealth. This technology allows healthcare providers to remotely monitor patients’ health status and adjust their care plans accordingly. Remote monitoring devices can include wearable technology, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches, or devices that measure vital signs, such as blood pressure and blood glucose levels. According to a survey by the Spyglass Consulting Group, 88% of healthcare providers plan to invest in remote patient monitoring technology in the next two years.
- Hybrid Care Models: Hybrid care models that combine in-person and virtual care have also emerged as an important trend in telehealth. These models allow healthcare providers to offer a range of services to their patients, improving patient access to care. For example, patients can see their healthcare provider in-person for initial diagnosis and then continue their care through telehealth. A survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) found that 56% of healthcare providers plan to use a hybrid care model in the future.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is another emerging trend in telehealth. AI can be used to provide personalized healthcare services, such as symptom analysis and treatment recommendations. AI can also be used to improve clinical decision-making by analyzing large amounts of patient data. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global market for AI in healthcare is expected to reach $31.3 billion by 2025.
The benefits of telehealth expansion
Telehealth expansion offers several benefits, including improved access to healthcare services, cost savings, and improved patient outcomes. Here are some of the benefits of telehealth expansion:
- Improved Access to Healthcare Services: Telehealth services provide patients with access to healthcare services regardless of their location, improving access to healthcare services for patients in remote or underserved areas.
- Cost Savings: Telehealth services can help reduce healthcare costs by reducing the need for hospital visits, emergency room visits, and hospital admissions. Telehealth services can also help patients save time and money by eliminating the need for travel to healthcare facilities.
- Improved Patient Outcomes: Telehealth services can improve patient outcomes by providing timely access to healthcare services. Patients can quickly connect with healthcare professionals, receive prompt medical attention, and reduce the risk of complications or adverse health outcomes.
- Increased patient engagement and satisfaction: Telehealth allows patients to take a more active role in their care by providing them with tools and resources to manage their health outside of traditional healthcare settings. This can lead to improved patient engagement and satisfaction with the healthcare experience.
- Increased efficiency: Telehealth can help healthcare providers operate more efficiently by reducing administrative burdens and allowing for more flexible scheduling and care delivery.
- Reduced risk of infection transmission: Telehealth can help reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission by minimizing in-person contact and exposure in healthcare settings.
- Improved population health: Telehealth can help improve overall population health by increasing access to care, particularly for vulnerable populations, and enabling more efficient and effective healthcare delivery.
The future of telehealth looks very promising, as healthcare providers and patients alike are recognizing the many benefits that telehealth offers. Here are some ways in which the future of telehealth is expected to evolve:
- Increased Adoption: Telehealth adoption rates are expected to continue to increase in the coming years, as patients and healthcare providers become more comfortable with the technology. According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the global telehealth market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25.2% from 2021 to 2026.
- Integration with EHRs: The integration of telehealth with electronic health records (EHRs) is another area that is expected to grow in the future. This integration can provide healthcare providers with more comprehensive patient data, allowing for better care coordination and management.
- Expansion of Services: As the technology improves, telehealth is expected to expand beyond primary care and mental health services to include a wider range of healthcare services, such as specialist consultations, surgery, and rehabilitation.
- Improved Patient Outcomes: Telehealth is expected to improve patient outcomes by increasing access to care, improving care coordination, and allowing for more frequent monitoring of chronic conditions.
- Regulatory Changes: Regulatory changes are expected to support the growth of telehealth in the future, with policymakers and healthcare organizations recognizing the potential benefits of telehealth. For example, in the US, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded coverage for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is growing support for making these changes permanent.
Telehealth expansion is the future of healthcare. Telehealth services provide patients with access to quality healthcare services regardless of their location, improving access to healthcare services for patients in remote or underserved areas. Telehealth services can also help reduce healthcare costs, improve patient outcomes, and provide timely access to healthcare services. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see further telehealth expansion, providing patients with even more access to quality healthcare services from the comfort of their homes.