As the COVID-19 pandemic became more prominent in the United States, so did the use of telehealth, according to Spectrum Enterprise’s white paper, A New Decade for Telehealth. Healthcare providers saw telehealth use increase during the pandemic at a pace that would have otherwise taken years to reach.
The pandemic led the rise in telehealth’s use, but it wasn’t the sole reason, however. Forrester analysts predicted that there’d be more than 1 billion virtual care visits in 2020. A majority of those telehealth visits (900 million) would be COVID-related, but approximately 200 million would be for general care and another 80 million would be related to mental health needs. Meanwhile, remote patient monitoring (RPM) was expected to grow by 150% and virtual visits were forecasted to increase by 124% last year.
“Even after the COVID-19 crisis passes, telehealth is expected to continue to expand,” the report said. “It’s anticipated that in 2021 and beyond, progressive health systems will start to view telehealth as a standard of care option for primary care virtual consultation. Frost & Sullivan believes in the next five years telehealth will have full regulatory approval and clinician support. Forrester predicts that healthcare organizations (HCOs) that don’t deliver virtual care will face customer attrition.”
Spectrum Enterprises’ white paper looked at what’s driving increased telehealth adoption outside of COVID-19, the opportunities that exist within the healthcare system for providers to use telehealth and the IT infrastructure requirements that will ensure HCOs can support current goals and the ongoing growth of telehealth services.
Why telehealth has become more prominent
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 58% of healthcare leaders said they made offering telehealth service a priority, according to the report. Meanwhile, 75% of U.S. hospitals had customer telehealth services in place or planned to implement the capability by the end of 2019. Additionally, 86% of healthcare executives that haven’t already adopted telehealth said it is a medium to high priority.
“Beyond COVID-19, rising healthcare costs, increased use of mobile apps for health monitoring, the growing burden of chronic diseases, and changes in reimbursement policies are all driving the increased interest and expansion of telehealth,” the report said. “Telehealth is particularly appealing because it can generate costs savings while offering improved patient care and outcomes. By moving patients away from expensive ER visits, home health visits, or even being able to shorten hospital stays and reduce readmissions by providing ongoing virtual care after discharge, telemedicine has been shown to provide net cost savings of $19 to $121 per visit.”
Patients’ increased familiarity with the technologies used to support telehealth has also helped the trend grow so quickly. More Americans are using mobile health applications to help educate and change their health behaviors. Approximately 7 out of 10 Americans use mobile apps to track at least one health indicator, according to telemedicine market research. Also, research shows that 60% of adults monitor their weight, diet and exercise through a mobile device.
Telehealth, wireless connectivity goes hand-in-hand
Virtual visits are only as good at the wireless networks on which they are connected. Fortunately, government organizations are taking note. The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Rural Health Care (RHC) Program provides funding to eligible healthcare providers that serve rural and underserved communities to obtain discounted prices for broadband network and telecom services. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and Connected Care Pilot Program collectively provided $300 million to expand telehealth and connected care services in 2020.
Telehealth’s evolution beyond video consultations puts further importance on reliable connectivity if the trend is going to continue on its upward path. Other telehealth methods include mobile health (mHealth) that includes apps that send text messages to prompt healthy behavior or send mass messages about disease outbreaks; remote patient monitoring, which allows for continued monitoring of a patient’s health data by providers; and store-and-forward technologies, which let medical information like digital images, documents and pre-recorded videos be digitally sent through secure email communication. Such information could include MRIs and x-rays.
Meanwhile, increased smartphone and bring your own device (BYOD) use has led to healthcare organizations investing in more IoT solutions, according to report. About 60% of HCOs in a survey said they are already using IoT devices in their facilities. IoT devices can help track bed occupancy, help healthcare providers monitor their patients remotely and allow facilities to find almost any asset in less time.
When healthcare providers opt to use telehealth, they should keep a few questions in mind when selecting a network service provider, according to Spectrum Enterprises’ report. These inquiries include if they provide fiber connectivity solutions, do they offer managed network services, are they HIPPA-compatible, can they support rural telehealth services and if they have healthcare expertise.
“As demand for telehealth services continues to climb, HCOs need to make sure they are able to meet the demand with a reliable, scalable IT infrastructure,” the report said. “The investment will not only help keep patients and providers safer during a pandemic but will offer long-term benefits in cost and workflow efficiencies as well as increased patient convenience and improved outcomes.”
Click here to download the white paper.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.