The virtual healthcare delivery market is rapidly transforming. With the COVID-19 pandemic driving telemedicine mainstream, the number of healthcare professionals leveraging telehealth to provide patient care has spiked significantly in the last two years.
The number of physicians offering telemedicine services has increased from 22 percent in 2019 to nearly 84 percent by the end of 2020. Healthcare practitioners also had an overwhelmingly positive response to telehealth, with 96 percent reporting that they would be willing to use it.
Moreover, telemedicine is no longer limited to primary care practitioners holding virtual consultations. It is also finding increased application in areas of medical specialty.
Here are the top telemedicine specialty areas that are currently witnessing the most traction in 2021 and beyond.
A study conducted by the American Medical Association had found that radiologists were among the earliest adopters of telemedicine as a specialty. They have long been using asynchronous or store and forward telemedicine to allow clinical consultations with specialists and provide quality radiological interpretations, especially in remote regions where access to care is scarce.
Teleradiology is a telemedicine specialty area that is going to continue to thrive in the future as well. Physicians and general practitioners can send radiological images over to the specialists over secure, HIPAA compliant channels.
Telemedicine when used in tandem with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence can even streamline the radiologist’s workflow even further. With machine learning technology advancing and becoming capable of making routine radiological diagnosis with human-like accuracy, only the cases that require a specialist opinion will be forwarded to the radiologist, bringing in greater efficiency.
2. Telepsychiatry/ Telemental Health
Mental health was a specialty that was leading in telemedicine adoption even prior to the COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, less than 2 percent of clinicians in the different healthcare specialties used telemedicine. However, psychologists and psychiatrists reported high rates of telemedicine adoption even back then at 4.4 and 5.5 percent respectively.
COVID-19 emergency has only exacerbated the ongoing mental health crisis and has fueled the growth of telemental and telebehavioral health as specialties. The licensure requirements were relaxed to promote inter-state practice and bring down the barriers to telemental health.
Additionally, telemedicine in mental health specialty can be used to provide drug counselling in remote regions to combat addiction. It has also been proven to aid mental health recovery for people who have trouble accessing resources such as veterans or astronauts. Psychiatrists can also conduct virtual consultations and prescribe medications as necessary through ePrescriptions. Telemedicine for mental health is rapidly advancing and is a healthcare specialty area that shows much promise in the future as well.
3. Pediatric Telemedicine
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that while the medical care for children should begin at a pediatrician’s office, pediatric telemedicine offers promising results in ensuring the continuity of care. Telemedicine can be used as an add-on for in-person visits with a pediatrician or pediatric specialist. Pediatric telemedicine can make care accessible to children who live in remote regions where geographic limitations curtail the access to healthcare services.
In addition to protecting children from hospital acquired infections, pediatric telemedicine also saves the parents to take time off work. Telemedicine can be used for conducting routine examinations through audio/video consultations, medication management in case of children suffering from chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes, mental health counseling for children and for conditions such as obesity or anorexia in children and teenagers.
4. Women’s Health Telemedicine
Telemedicine can allow the gynaecologists and obstetricians to monitor their patients better while increasing the convenience of care delivery. Pregnancy and menstruation-related issues can make it difficult for women to travel to their practitioner and add to the existing discomfort. In cases where physical examination is not necessary, ob-gyns can conduct virtual consultations with their patients.
Telemedicine for women’s health also helps the specialists to check in at frequent intervals, allowing frequent monitoring of the patients . For patients with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or postpartum depression, telemedicine allows doctors to have frequent check ins while eliminating the need to travel.
While dentistry is a healthcare specialty that typically requires in-person visits, the benefits of teledentistry have been felt by patients and practitioners alike. As COVID-19 pandemic challenged every healthcare specialty, dental practitioners were especially impacted. Fomites and aerosols in the dental office increased the risk of contamination and infection transmission and many dentists were forced to close down their clinics in the lockdowns that were imposed.
Teledentistry emerged as a viable alternative in such challenging times. It has helped the patients stay connected with the dental practitioners in case of emergencies. Dentists can hold frequent check-ins with their patients and conduct follow-up appointments virtually. Patients are also using teledentistry to click intraoral photographs of their area of complaint and getting faster access to treatment.
Similar to teleradiology, dermatology is a specialty that is one of the forerunners in case of telemedicine adoption. The visual nature of dermatology makes it an ideal candidate for both real-time as well as store and forward telemedicine. With our existing healthcare system already under a great amount of stress, teledermatology can bring down the wait times and make care more accessible to all.
A teledermatology pilot program spearheaded in Massachusetts in 2019 was found to increase access to specialty care by patients while decreasing the overall cost of dermatology spending. Teledermatology consultations eliminated the need for in-person visits in half of the cases. It also resulted in expedited care for cases requiring urgent attention such as cancerous skin lesions like carcinomas and melanomas resulting in improved prognosis in such cases.
7. Urgent Care Telemedicine
Emergency physicians ranked among the specialists that made use of telemedicine most frequently to interact with other healthcare practitioners. According to a survey conducted by the American Medical Association, 38.8 percent of emergency medicine practitioners have successfully leveraged telemedicine to interact with other healthcare professionals.
Telemedicine can allow practitioners to connect with emergency responders on site to improve the patient outcomes and streamline care. Urgent care telemedicine also allows for healthcare services to be spread in remote and rural regions which face accessibility issues. For example, the TeleEmergency Program offers rural Critical Access Hospitals and community hospitals access to 24/7 live-video consultations with emergency medical clinicians to ask for guidance, seek second opinions, and coordinate transfers to trauma centers
Cardiologists ranked third in a survey to determine specialty use of telemedicine. 24.1 percent of cardiologists made use of telecardiology to interact with their patients. Remote patient monitoring is a subset of telemedicine that is finding widespread application in the field of cardiology. Specialists can conduct remote examinations with the help of on-location healthcare professionals and nurse practitioners.
Remote monitoring devices can help cardiac specialists to detect irregular heart rhythms and arrhythmias. Patient health stats as collected by RPM devices and self reporting can be leveraged to adjust medication dosage and give out ePrescriptions. Telecardiology’s role is not just limited to monitoring high risk and post operative patients. Technology is now allowing cardiologists to perform medical procedures such as stenting, remotely as well.
Endocrinologists were the clinicians that used telemedicine the most during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey conducted by the journal of health affairs, 67.7 percent of endocrinologists used telemedicine at least once since the onset of the pandemic. Telemedicine has played a pivotal role in management of endocrine disorders such as diabetes and thyroid.
At-home monitoring devices such as glucometers can give the endocrinologists a comprehensive overview of the patient’s condition. Telemedicine also allows medication management to be done remotely without necessitating in-person visits to the doctor’s office. Telemedicine for endocrinology as a specialty has proven to be effective while decreasing the cost of healthcare delivery, saving time, improving patient outcomes while increasing the patient satisfaction levels.
10. Geriatric Telemedicine
Elderly population is generally considered as non tech-savvy. However, with telemedicine app development focusing towards user-friendliness, geriatric telemedicine is also gaining momentum. Since the older generation is more susceptible to contracting COVID and suffering from its adverse effects, telemedicine is increasingly becoming the preferred mode of healthcare delivery in non-emergency cases.
In fact, Doximity’s 2020 state of telemedicine report ranked geriatrics at the 8th spot among top halthcare specialties that are using telemedicine as a mode of care delivery. Multiple programs were implemented to make healthcare more accessible to the elderly population living in care homes and other assisted living centers. SD eResidential Facilities Healthcare Services Access Project implemented telehealth services to reach patients at long-term care facilities. Use of real-time video conferencing allowed geriatric patients to avail the care they needed from the care facility premises.
11. Telemedicine for Chronic Diseases
According to a survey conducted by Doximity, 77 percent of patients suffering from chronic diseases have utilised telemedicine since the beginning of the pandemic. Chronic care management requires frequent consultations with the care team over a long period of time. Telehealth interventions such as real time consultations and remote patient monitoring can empower data-driven decision making in monitoring of chronic conditions.
Remote monitoring can help patients suffering from chronic conditions such as asthma, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, etc get proper care through timely risk identification and proper interventions.
57 percent gastroenterologists reportedly used telemedicine for at least one visit since the pandemic, which is second highest among all specialties. Since patients suffering from gastroenterological problems such as colitis, Crohn’s disease etc. require close monitoring and constant medication management, gastroenterology as a specialty is well-suited for telemedicine.
Neurologists follow close behind gastroenterologists in the list of specialists who have leveraged telemedicine the most since the pandemic. 56 percent of neurologists have reportedly used telehealth to conduct at least one patient consultation. Use of telemedicine in the field of neurology has shown proven benefits in expediting care, increasing access, reducing cost, and improving diagnostic accuracy and health outcomes.
14. Telemedicine Ophthalmology and Optometry
The field of ophthalmology has historically lagged behind in telemedicine adoption. However, it is gradually realizing the benefits that store and forward telemedicine offers to the specialty of ophthalmology and optometry. Intraocular images of eye problems can be sent over to specialists who can not only use telemedicine to diagnose conditions, but also prescribe medications to treat the same.
15. Physical Therapy and Pain Management Telemedicine
Physical therapy and pain management is one of the newer frontiers of telemedicine and practitioners are just beginning to realize the value of technology incorporation into this specialty. Practitioners have demonstrated that physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises can be conducted virtually with great deal of success.
Telemedicine has found application in a number of healthcare specialties and is going to continue to grow in scope in the future as well. You need to leverage technology and give patients a chance to hold virtual consultations if you want to expand your reach and raise the patient engagement and satisfaction levels.
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