For years, telehealth has been used primarily in rural areas to provide medical care to patients who may have a hard time accessing treatment at a healthcare facility. However, the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the healthcare industry, causing more providers to use telehealth to treat patients remotely in urban areas. While it is popular now, will telehealth remain widely-used after the pandemic?
Why has the use of telehealth increased?
An article from McKinsey and Company says the use of telehealth among consumers has increased from 11% in 2019 to 46% due to the pandemic. Presumably, this is because many healthcare facilities are encouraging patients to use telehealth (except for emergency cases) to keep waiting areas less crowded and decrease the risk of the potential spread of COVID-19.
What are the advantages of telehealth?
Some of the advantages of telehealth are: easy access to appointments, saving money, and reducing exposure to illnesses.
Offers Easy Access and Convenience
Telehealth lets patients connect with a healthcare provider from the comfort of their home. Patients can access appointments on smartphones, laptops, and other devices by simply clicking a link in their patient portal or email. Telehealth is convenient for the elderly, at-risk groups, and those in urban areas or patients with a busy schedule because appointments tend to be shorter than in-office visits, and patients can connect from anywhere -- the office, park bench, or their home.
Healthcare providers also experience the convenience of telehealth. Because appointments tend to be shorter, this frees up the time for providers to catch up on other work or enjoy some personal time. Providers also have the benefit of connecting with patients from anywhere, so they are not limited to working solely in the office.
Saves Money on ER Visits
Using telehealth can save patients money by preventing unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Typically during times of uncertainty, like during a global pandemic, some patients panic and rush to the emergency room even though their symptoms are not indicating a life-threatening emergency. If the patient doesn't have reliable transportation they may spend hundreds of dollars on an ambulance trip to the ER. Telehealth makes it easier for patients to access qualified healthcare providers who can help the patient decide if their symptoms require more advanced treatment. By having quick access to providers, patients are less likely to rush to the emergency room therefore potentially saving hundreds of dollars on an unnecessary visit.
Protects Yourself and Others from Illnesses
Using telehealth helps to prevent the spread of illness among patients and healthcare providers. Transmission of viruses can happen quickly, and there is usually a group of patients in a waiting room at one time, which increases the risk of everyone getting exposed. Telehealth ensures patients get the medical care they need while keeping others from getting sick. Instead of coming into contact with many sick patients a day, healthcare providers can be at ease knowing they are helping patients without exposing themselves to COVID-19.
Are there disadvantages to using telehealth?
Like most systems, telehealth is not perfect and there are some disadvantages to using it. One of the biggest concerns is data security. With any online system, information is susceptible to being compromised. The main concern is that patients' personal devices may not be as protected as a hospital's network, resulting in hackers accessing sensitive information about the patients. However, companies and IT teams across the country continue to work hard every day to enhance the security of telehealth systems.
Is telehealth here to stay?
According to data from UnitedHealth Group and consumer research company CivicScience, 72% of consumers said they did not plan to use telehealth in December. That number has since dropped to 47% in May, with only 4% of visits in May attributed to COVID-19. It seems as if patients are now using telehealth as an alternative way to receive care after relying on it while facilities were closed or reserved for emergency cases only, and that telehealth may be the new go-to method for receiving or providing care moving forward.
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