The pandemic has changed so much about our lives - including medical visits. Telehealth was slowly growing in popularity before 2020, but when the pandemic hit, its popularity (and necessity) skyrocketed. Now that on-site medical visits should be safe and possible for most of us again, is telehealth still important?
1. Telehealth has plateaued. The article’s headline is a mix of good and bad news (depending on who you are, of course). Telehealth use spiked at the start of the pandemic but has since leveled out. As of July 2021, virtual consultations make up about 13-17% of patient and healthcare provider interactions. Still, telemedicine use is 38% higher than it was pre-pandemic.
2. Different healthcare fields have seen different growth in telehealth consultations. Journalist Anuja Vaidya reports that telehealth has seen its largest surge in popularity in psychiatry, with more than half of consultations conducted remotely. Other fields where telehealth remains popular include endocrinology, treatment for substance abuse disorder, and rheumatology.
3. So far in 2021, telehealth and phone consultation and visit rates also remain high for pediatrician visits (29%), visits to a clinic in a store or pharmacy (30%) and urgent care center consultations (20%).
4. Many healthcare professionals have changed their view on telemedicine. Although its popularity has dropped slightly over the course of the year, 58% of physicians still see telehealth in a more positive way than they did before the pandemic. 84% of US physicians listed telehealth as one of their options for a consultation, and more than half plan to keep a telehealth option, moving forward.
5. Doctors aren’t the only ones who see telehealth in a more positive light. Before the pandemic, only 11% of patients were interested in telemedicine. But as of the study’s release, that’s risen to 40% of patients, who plan to continue using telehealth in the future.
In fact, 40-60% of patients want to see more online healthcare solutions put into place, including plans that would provide virtual-first healthcare at lower cost. Which brings us to takeaway #6….
6. Cost can still be an issue for many patients. One surprising thing the study found is that 54% of physicians would not offer a discount for virtual visits, as opposed to a price reduction they might give for in-person consultations.
Part of this may be due to the particular challenges telemedicine presents. For instance, a recent survey by the American Medical Association reveals that while most doctors see telehealth as a positive addition to their practices, they often experience difficulties including patients’ struggles with the technology used, exposure to medical liability, and EHR integration.
It’s not perfect and it won’t replace on-site healthcare visits entirely, but telehealth seems to be here to stay, and it may evolve in ways we haven’t even imagined. It will be exciting to see how it continues to grow and change.