As we discussed in our recent article, “The Future has Come Early: What COVID-19 Means for Remote Healthcare”, telemedicine has arrived. In the year leading up to the current global pandemic, adoption of telemedicine was slow. A J.D Power survey from 2019 found that just 1 in 10 patients had used telehealth instead of a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency room visit. Today, largely due to the inaccessibility of in-person healthcare visits and the opening up of regulations and billing requirements for telemedicine, the adoption of telemedicine has skyrocketed.
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for telemedicine. Across the board, providers, payers, healthcare systems, and technology companies are seeing unprecedented adoption of telehealth technology. Novant Health reported video visits have gone from 200 to 12,000+ per week. Hospitals like UC San Diego Health are now reporting that “telehealth visits continue to make up 55 percent of medical appointments”.
However, what does the widespread acceptance and adoption of telemedicine mean? What growing pains are emerging? Is remote healthcare here to stay? And most importantly, how can we build on the momentum of telemedicine and take things to the next level?
Telemedicine is Now Mainstream. What’s Next?
In a few short months, we’ve flipped from a healthcare system that operates almost exclusively in-person to one that has gone virtual. We can think of this technological leap like the analog clock going digital, or the physical library moving to online search or Google. Today, Millennials and Gen Z see the analog clock or the library as an inefficient means for getting the information they need—hardly a means of utility.
When applying similar logic to traditional healthcare and telemedicine, we have to ask: will in-person medical appointments feel “analog” and “old hat”? Now that telemedicine is mainstream, we think a new standard for care delivery will soon be established. Although telemedicine will not replace in-person visits, just like the internet did not kill libraries, it will democratize access to information. For instance, health education, specialized care, and collective expert opinions, could now be made accessible to those who live too far away from the “library”.
Innovative healthcare delivery + plus rapid adoption = growing pains.
No one could have predicted the massive surge in demand placed on telehealth, and a lot of the trial and error had to play out live. Just like in-person healthcare visits, telehealth solutions fall short when it comes to wait times for patients, not having enough healthcare providers, and offering at-home follow through for the patient. These vulnerabilities have always existed but are now occurring over video chat and telephone.
The obstacle of ‘activating’ the patient and offering them tangible take-aways and treatment to perform at home has been an unresolved issue in healthcare. Shifting to telemedicine and adding video visits does not turn the passive patient into an active one. So, how can we take advantage of this “climate of change” and refocus efforts to really activate the patient?
A Snapshot: How the Current Telemedicine Set-up is Limited
Although telemedicine and the ability for patients to virtually connect with healthcare providers is absolutely necessary, this is just the beginning.
Here are a few ways telemedicine is currently limited:
- Not coordinated. Patients are sent sporadic pockets of information. Most of the health literacy and action items are distributed via email, told over the phone, and may vary from healthcare providers (even if through the same telehealth service).
- Care lacks continuity. Patients aren’t given tangible takeaways to fully engage in their own healthcare treatment from home. Take for instance, a patient with shoulder injury. Beyond the diagnosis, being offered some at-home physical therapy videos or written exercises, a prescription to fill, and perhaps a follow-up telehealth appointment, how can the patient really treat their condition? With just telehealth, patients lack structured, daily guidance which is important to ensure a full recovery. Otherwise, the patient is just going through another cycle of the above, and perhaps with a completely different provider.
- Less customized. Patients may see several different providers, may get template surveys, or emails and care plans sent through EMR software. Without continued, follow-up care from home for a patient’s specific condition, it can feel like a catch-all to just ‘buy time’ until an in-person visit.
- Just treating symptoms. Real musculoskeletal treatment and recovery is an ongoing and complex process. There isn’t a silver bullet for treatment. Telehealth appointments provide the medium for communication, but cannot offer the necessary follow-through.
- Not scalable. With telehealth virtual appointments, like in-person care, a high number of healthcare providers are required to diagnose, treat, monitor, and educate patients. The next iteration of digital health solutions should build on telemedicine by offering high-level at-home care with greater breadth and scalability
Whether or not the patient is seen in-person, over the phone, or via video, they need to become active participants in their treatment to shape their outcome. Activating the patient means offering proper remote guidance that is digestible, evidence-based, and exists beyond the 15 or 30-minute telehealth appointment.
What’s Next? Building on the Momentum of TeleHealth
COVID-19 has forced the hand and accelerated the adoption of telehealth by years from a regulatory, patient safety, providers acceptance and funding standpoint.
As creators of remote care technology, building on this increased adoption and acceptance of telehealth is where the future of healthcare gets extra exciting. Shifting to telehealth and remote care offers the opportunity to “reset” the way healthcare is provided and received.
Here’s how we see momentum building with Telehealth:
- Providers, payers, insurers, and employers embrace at-home digital solutions to supplement telehealth meetings with healthcare providers.
- Patients get comprehensive, evidence-based tasks to complete from home with devices they already own. Wearable tech and specialty devices in healthcare present a scalability issue and mean additional roadblocks.
- Patient progress is monitored digitally by case managers, nurses, physicians and other specialists. Risks are flagged, patient-reported data and metrics can be captured, and care becomes customized to the individual.
- Greater unity amongst patients, providers, payers, employers, and all other stakeholders across healthcare.
The next phase in healthcare where we embrace telehealth and remote care relies on the patient becoming an active participant in their own care. When patients are offered the right guidance in an accessible manner, we can “unlock” the next level in contemporary healthcare delivery. Hey, we’re working on it.
Interested in learning more about PeerWell’s remote healthcare solution for injured workers? See how you can treat musculoskeletal conditions from home (at scale).