How COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of Telemedicine and Telehealth Software
Blog: NASSCOM Official Blog
When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the world’s healthcare system saw a transformation that they weren’t prepared for. Healthcare systems around the world were overburdened beyond their capacity, but on the other hand, for individuals, a regular doctor’s visit became impossible. With the pandemic cases seeing an unprecedented high every single day, patients had to look at other means to contact their doctors for diagnosis and treatments.
This peculiar situation that the world hadn’t planned or prepared for, had paved a way for telemedicine platforms like never before. While the adoption of digital health tools had already seen a surge before the pandemic, the openness towards embracing telemedicine was a reckoning no one saw coming. While the government and healthcare institutions expected and recommended virtual means to contact healthcare professionals, the approval of acceptance from the layman shed light on never seen before insights of the potential of telemedicine and telehealth software solutions.
A testament to this can be seen in the way consumer adoption in the US shot up from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020. According to a report by McKinsey, this accelerated growth could see $250 billion of the current spend in US healthcare become virtualized.
It is time we acknowledge that this shift was always across the horizon, waiting to happen. But, with this change, there is also a dire need to look at new ways of working for a different set of providers, implement step-change improvements in broadening access, information exchange, and integration of technology. While these need a bottom-up transformation, right from infrastructure to operations, the change is welcome since it offers a positive impact on better patient outcomes, improved convenience and access to care, and a more efficient healthcare system. Owing to the relevance and effectiveness, we can be assured that these changes will likely be in place by the next 12 to 18 months. Another facet that plays an involuntary but pivotal role in this is the availability of a vaccine against Covid-19. Until that sees the light of day, preferences, and needs of patients and individuals are bound to evolve around the deeply embedded telehealth system around us.
However, not everything is sunshine and rainbows for telehealth and telemedicine solutions. A few challenges that telehealth is bound to face include workflow integration, the effectiveness when compared to the in-person visits, and security. Along the same lines, there is a considerable difference between the interest in telehealth and the actual usage of telehealth for the common man. This is mainly due to the lack of awareness of all the offerings, the knowledge on the care services that can be offered virtually, understanding of insurance coverage and reimbursements, together could widen this gap further.
But before we look at how telehealth and its solutions are bound to transform the future, it is imperative for us to look at how it dealt with individuals when a pandemic was on. Its advantageous strategy during a pandemic can be summed up in three points:
- Offers care and diagnosis to a patient without a clinical visit
- Reduces the risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus for the staff and the patient
- Decreases the requirement of Personal Protective Equipment
But what can we expect when telehealth reaches its full potential?
Virtual care or virtually enabled healthcare solutions are bound to reach their full potential, with more and more people availing such services. These models have an ongoing perpetual engagement with the individuals, that cater to various one-off urgent visits to building care models that deliver the clinic experience virtually to embedding virtual care models at home.
Let us look at each of them individually:
- On-demand virtual care
The on-demand virtual urgent care is an alternative to the urgent care visits, after-hours consultations, or the emergency department visits. In the present day, these services are at the top of the offerings for various telehealth solutions. The virtualization of this allows consumers to consult a healthcare practitioner remotely to address immediate and urgent concerns that can be dealt with, without visiting the ER. These offerings will see more visits in comparison to traditional EDs.
- Virtual office visits
Individuals visit and consult an established healthcare provider for various purposes that could include the likes of primary care, behavioral health, or some specialty follow-up care. These tests or check-ups do not require any physical exams or other procedures. In these cases, an omnichannel care model lets patients have virtual office visits that include a combination of telehealth and in-person care. This enables doctors and clinicians to manage patients who suffer from chronic conditions with remote patient monitoring, digital coaching, and digital therapeutics.
- Near virtual office visits
When it comes to testing and immunizations, near-virtual office visits help the patients access care by combining near home sites with virtual access to the physician. While the process is bound to be refined with more and more people utilizing it, the near virtual office visits will play a pivotal role in being the steppingstone for telemedicine solutions.
- Virtual home health
In virtual home health services, remote monitoring, digital patient engagement tools, and virtual visits help healthcare institutions offer services remotely. This also includes evaluation, education for the caregiver and patient, and physical therapy among other services. Through virtual home health services, one could enhance the patient’s and caregiver’s experience, and improve connectivity with the care team.
- Tech-led medication administration
During a pandemic, it was of paramount importance to help individuals embrace the shift from having infusible and injectable drugs in the clinic to having them at home. To facilitate this, remote monitoring of patients was done, to manage and monitor symptoms along with providing self-service tools that enable education. This was sometimes coupled with telehealth staff along with home delivery of therapeutics.
Telehealth has the power to provide necessary care across areas that face shortages of basic healthcare facilities. It is also effective in dealing with behavioral health, improving the patient experience, and in significantly improving the outcomes. Moreover, the integration of telehealth solutions brings convenience and access care to patients where and when they need it. While healthcare is bound to become more efficient with telehealth, its adoption in the post-pandemic era will mark a new beginning. One where telehealth solutions become the new normal.