The changing landscape of healthcare
The Doctor is On: How the Rise of Telehealth has Changed the Medical Landscape
The world of medicine is one that is constantly changing and being pushed forward by new technologies. In a world where more and more business is being conducted digitally, the introduction of telehealth is something that is far from surprising. Rather than relying on visits to a traditional doctor’s office, people around the world have discovered the benefits of remote access.
Telehealth—the practice of administering medical advice or treatments via telecommunications—has experienced an astonishing rate of growth in 2020 alone. According to a study published by Forrester Research, “The adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive over the past month, with virtual health-care interactions on pace to top 1 billion by year’s end.”
The rise of telehealth can be witnessed in “virtually” all areas of the medical community, ranging from ordinary checkups, to issuing new prescriptions, to mental health services and everything in between. As time goes on, the effectiveness and efficiency of telehealth services can be expected to increase even further.
While some health trends will not last beyond a given crisis, it is clear that important structural changes, such a telehealth, will likely be here to stay. Below, we will discuss some of the most notable ways that telehealth has changed the global medical landscape.
1. Geographic Freedom
For decades, a person’s ability to access medical was largely dependent on where they lived and how far they were willing to travel. Sure, for a major, life-changing surgery, they might consider taking a trip across the country (or even visit another country), but, in general, geography has been a limiting factor.
The rise of telehealth has helped increase the level of geographic choice a given person might have. This is especially valuable for people residing in rural communities (about 19.3 percent of the US population) who might live an hour or more from their nearest quality care center. Geographic flexibility can also be beneficial for individuals who like their current doctor and are planning on moving in the near future. In general, anything that increases choice and accessibility without increasing costs can be considered a good thing for the medical community.
2. Limiting Exposure to Diseases
The Center for Diseases Control (CDC) recognizes that many viruses and other diseases can spread very easily. Unnecessary exposure to sick people, or people who are simply carrying a disease but are asymptomatic, is a risk that the introduction of telehealth is helping us avoid.
By their own nature, hospitals are places that—even with the best cleaning efforts—experience quite a bit of person-to-person contact, as well as quite a bit of coughing, sneezing, and other hazards. Telehealth has helped reduce the number of non-emergency individuals staying at a given hospital which, consequently, has helped flatten the curve and slowed the virus’ spread. It would not be unsurprising if, even after the outbreak is over, hospitals continued taking exceptional measures to minimize personal contact.
3. Reduced Costs
According to the American Hospital Association, a typical telemedicine program can help reduce costs by 11 percent. As these programs become more developed and evolved over time, the rate of possible savings will likely increase further. Savings are especially noticeable for individuals that require consulting from a specialist, rather than a general practice physician.
There are quite a few reasons why telehealth has helped decrease total costs. On a grander scale, these programs can help reduce or even eliminate the need for certain physical facilities; because digital infrastructure costs less to build and maintain than physical infrastructure, these savings can quickly begin to add up. Additionally, telehealth meetings generally enable doctors to complete interactions with patients more efficiently, saving both time and money. Of course, there will still remain countless procedures, such as surgeries, where the individual has no choice but to receive in-person treatment. But even with this being said, the continued rise of telehealth—across the multi-trillion dollar medical industry—is one of the clearest ways to reduce costs and, ultimately, help reduce premiums and deductibles.
4. Increased Accessibility
Being able to access in-person healthcare requires more than just living near a primary care center; it also requires being able to physically go to and enter into the doctor’s office. For some people, especially those who are older or are currently suffering from a disability or certain diseases, the physical process of making it to the doctor’s office can be very difficult. In fact, if going to the doctor becomes too much of a challenge, patients will inevitably be less likely to reach out and access the care they need. With telehealth, patients can now access certain critical care components, regardless of their physical condition.
Additionally, one Cisco Global Survey recently revealed that about 74 percent of patients “prefer easy access to healthcare services over in-person interactions with providers.” In other words, there are almost certainly more people that are likely to pursue preventative care, due to an increase in convenience.
5. Dynamic Benefits Packages
Lastly, the rise of telehealth will also likely increase the benefits packages that many major companies are currently willing to offer. In 2019, for example, Amazon—one of the world’s largest companies—decided to launch “Amazon Care”, which is a “telemedicine-driven care offering for Seattle employees.” The comprehensive care package includes the ability to chat with nurses, engage in standard telemedicine appointments, use an app to make house calls, and also have prescriptions delivered.
Thus far this program, and others like it, has received generally positive feedback. Because telehealth is more affordable than other healthcare alternatives, it is likely that at least some firms—even very small businesses—that previously were not offering health insurance will now be more willing to do so. This coincides with a broader, documented trend of benefits being considered an increasingly important component of the modern worker’s total compensation package.
In an era where the world is becoming increasingly digital, the rise of telehealth has been a development that is both natural and important. Reduced costs, improved service, and accessibility are just a few of the reasons this trend has grown. Over the next ten years, we can expect the broader industry push for telehealth solutions to continue.