By Ryan Bullock
Over the past year, directly in response to the pandemic, we’ve seen a rapid shift in how patients prefer to receive care.
While in-person visits will always be necessary for comprehensive care and treatment, both practitioners and patients have preferred to approach minor issues virtually for convenience and of course, to avoid potential exposure to the virus. As a result, we’ve seen utilization of telehealth skyrocket among patients, healthcare providers and commercial payers, thanks in large part to the CARES Act and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which expanded coverage and funding for these programs.
While telehealth services will continue to gain momentum for safety and efficiency purposes as we endure a second wave, providers and payers who want to keep providing patients with a favorable experience will offer these services beyond the pandemic to continue delivering care where and how they prefer.
The rise of telehealth
According to a recent survey, most payors reported that they had implemented telehealth offerings in response to the pandemic, as all healthcare facilities were trying to reserve in-person visits to emergencies only in an attempt to reduce the spread. These offerings were well-received by patients — according to doctor.com’s 2020 Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare, which was released in early 2020, patient usage of telemedicine was up 33 percent from the previous year and in the early months of the pandemic, 71 percent of US patients had considered virtual medicine, while half had already seen a healthcare provider virtually. With that being said, this percentage is likely even higher now, with the pandemic induced restrictions continuing at varying degrees around the country since March.
Telehealth has fostered a healthcare experience that patients crave in our digital-first era—easy, immediate access to healthcare professionals through their smartphone or computer. They’re able to quickly schedule an appointment online whenever they need, can avoid the time spent traveling to the doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room, and best of all, they don’t have to leave their homes or risk exposure to the virus.
Why telehealth is here to stay
Roughly 83 percent of patients expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic resolves. Telehealth’s ability to allow patients to access care for non-urgent matters such as pain management, to address smaller health concerns and to help with in-home set ups of durable medical equipment such as CPAPs and breast pumps, has changed their expectations for care delivery. Convenience is a key factor in the success of telehealth for both patients and providers, which will continue to be important when the majority of the workforce returns to the office and ‘normal life’ activities resume. Telehealth will allow individuals to better prioritize their health by having it fit more easily in their schedule due to the flexibility it provides—in fact, one study found telehealth services save patients over 100 minutes of their time compared to in-person. This will reduce the amount of time they will need to take off work and can help them better gauge when an in-person visit is necessary.