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In the past year, we’ve seen telehealth move from an exciting investment opportunity to a necessary part of care. As many health systems scrambled to switch to virtual during the pandemic, there was uncertainty about the value to the patients. After all, can patients get the best possible value from their care through virtual visits and digital healthcare solutions?

The Push Telehealth Needed

2020 was a big year for telehealth. Once promised to be the next big thing in healthcare during the 2010s, pundits believed that this socially distanced model of connecting doctors and patients would lower costs, increase access, and improve outcomes. Investments flowed in and hype was immense, especially in the wake of the 2010 healthcare law. People loved the idea of telehealth—but weren’t exactly enamored with the idea of using it. There was a major barrier in adoption…until the global pandemic shut down the world and the standard medical visit.

Telehealth Saw Hype, Not Adoption

Before Covid-19, despite big promises for patients, health providers and insurers, telehealth never saw a full embrace. In the early 2010s, insurers seemed unwilling to pay for it, patients and providers remained hesitant, and telehealth companies ran into regulatory hurdles at every step of the way. 

Even those who were willing to embrace remote care found themselves dealing with issues. Both patients and providers kept running into restrictions around the types of technology a clinician is limited to, when a clinician can offer telemedicine to a patient, the minimum distance a patient must live from the clinician’s office to qualify for telehealth, and more.

“The COVID Effect” on Telehealth

By the late 2010s, expectations remained high, but adoption still wasn’t there. The market size was valued at over USD 38.3 billion in 2018 and was expected to witness more than 19% CAGR from 2019 to 2025. The problem? Adoption and awareness was underwhelming—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.

Certain portions of the healthcare sector embraced the idea. However, even with the attention and acceptance, many fields lagged. As late as February 2020, few patients saw themselves conversing with their primary care providers or specialists over the internet.

In the spring of 2020, healthcare systems began to report unprecedented increases in telehealth services. “Banyan Medical Systems, a virtual-care provider that partners with 800+ hospitals reported a 900 percent increase in patients using telehealth services; Novant Health in North Carolina said that video visits have gone from 200 to 12,000+ per week; and New York University’s Langone Medical Center went from having 20 virtual-care clinicians to 1,300 in less than a week.”

COVID-19 Changes the Game

In March 2020, lockdowns left patients unable to visit their doctors, and health systems across the nation scrambled to provide access to care. Regulations eased and payers got on board while patients and providers became more comfortable conducting visits online.

Something we discussed in our recent articles on telehealth, COVID caused a significant and immediate paradigm shift. Regulations changed. Apples to apples billing, technological freedoms, easier intake, and loosened restrictions helped to overcome skepticism on both sides of treatment. Seemingly overnight, the number of visits skyrocketed; Forrester Research estimates that 1 billion telehealth visits took place in 2020.

Read our article, “The Future Has Come Early, What COVID-19 Means For Remote Healthcare”, for more in-depth view on how the pandemic has shaped telehealth.

The Major Question: What Now?

Seeing the number of telemedicine visits surpass one billion last year is cause for celebration, but questions about telehealth’s value to patients, providers, and payers remain. Put simply, is the telehealth revolution delivering value?

How Connected and Collaborative is Patient Care?

Prior to the pandemic, it was easy for a patient to discuss the patient’s needs with a provider, who would then write the patient a referral with all the necessary information.

With legacy systems, it was still easy to deliver a complete and connected experience for the patient when everything was done in-person. 

This became a challenge in the remote world. Progress was harder to track, and doing so across two systems was all but impossible. Unfortunately, this left patients with little information or conflicting advice.

Patients demand more convenient, engaging, and interactive healthcare from their providers, and a connected and collaborative approach to care can create positive outcomes for all those involved—but what’s being done to deliver it? 

Providing a Complete Unified Experience

Though the healthcare system has made great strides to embrace telehealth in the past year, transitioning telemedicine toward its role as an enabler of care requires a step forward. There is a need for continued care, progress tracking, and evidence-based medical guidance from home.

As telemedicine is more widely adopted and we shift to a hybrid-model of healthcare—one that we predict will mean permanent, fewer in-person appointments, we need to ensure there is a connected care pathway. With the recommendation and adoption of proven digital healthcare solutions, patients are given a path to symptom management, trackable progress, safer medical intervention, and even complete recovery from home.

From just-in-time interventions to efficient data sharing, health systems need to deliver a unified experience for patients, clinicians, and other team members. PeerWell’s Unified Care reduces the back-and-forth with care team members, eliminates unnecessary treatment and costs, and offers an unprecedented view into an injured patient’s recovery.

Get to know more about Unified Care and its role in connecting the digital health experience for patients, providers, and health plans. Ready to connect? Send us a note.

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