Just about every service that could be done remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has been, including telehealth. Remote doctor’s appointments have increased significantly over the last year, GlobeSt.com reports. Teladoc Health, the United States’ largest telemedicine software provider, reported 2.8 million virtual visits during the second quarter of 2020. That figure is three times bigger than the amount of visits during the same time frame a year ago.
The high demand for remote doctor’s appointments is expected to continue into 2021. Telehealth remains a popular option during the pandemic because healthcare providers can still generate revenue even if patients can’t physically make it to their doctor’s office. The revenue generated from remote visits also helps offset income lost from the decline in elective procedures.
Additionally, doctors can still prescribe medications and offer billable services through telehealth. Treating patients remotely could also give providers an opportunity to bill for calls that were uncompensated in the past. Meanwhile, patients find remote visits more convenient.
What does the future hold for telehealth?
Telehealth demand might remain high going in to next year, but post-COVID-19 demand might depend on two factors, according to Fitch Ratings—if insurers will still cover remote visits and if patients continue to see telehealth as a valuable option.
The U.S. Government could potentially have a say in how long telehealth services remain an option, GlobeSt.com reports. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act helped fund telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, President Trump signed an executive order that proposed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services make some of the permitted telehealth provisions permanent.
If investments are any indicator, it could be some time before telehealth appointments are no longer readily available. There have been recent investments made in telemedicine, a sign that it will continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Reimbursement uncertainty and questions about telehealth’s effectiveness could hamper the potential market penetration.
Connectivity is another important factor for telehealth’s long-term future
Remote medical appointments don’t happen without reliable wireless connectivity—on both the physician and patient’s ends. A lack of high-speed Internet services is a concern for treating senior patients remotely that need to visit their doctor more often. Meanwhile a doctor’s ability to treat their patients remotely will depend heavily on their building’s wireless network.
In recent years, commercial real estate owners have had to meet their tenants’ demands for reliable connectivity so they can run their businesses effectively. Tenants want to know when they go into work they wont’ have an issue making calls on their mobile device, conducting videoconferences or using Internet of Things (IoT) devices like security cameras or thermostats.
As important as all of those capabilities are, they pale in comparison to what connectivity means to a doctor when they are treating a patient remotely. Whether the doctor is conducing an assessment, providing a diagnosis or just talking with their patient, it’s critical that they can do so without their network suddenly not working. The high demand for telehealth services may be temporary, but CRE owners should know by now tenant demand for reliable connectivity is here to stay.
Joe Dyton can be reached at email@example.com.