Telehealth encompasses a range of technologies to enable remote patient monitoring, immediate healthcare intervention, consultations with primary care and specialist providers, and more. These technologies give members access to healthcare services, treatments, and coaching when logistics make it difficult for them to receive care in person.
The current COVID-19 crisis has made in-person care more challenging than ever. Healthcare organizations are quickly adopting telehealth solutions as a way to connect with members remotely. Analysts predict that more than 1 billion healthcare interactions will occur through telehealth by the end of 2020. The growth won’t stop there: Experts predict that, by 2026, the market size will reach more than $175 billion, a nearly fourfold increase from 2019.
The rapid adoption of telehealth solutions today and the growth of the market into the future will provide benefits long after the pandemic when it comes to supplementing in-person care.
The Benefits of Telehealth During and Beyond a Pandemic
During COVID-19, telehealth has been an important tool for providers and patients because it allows for care and intervention outside of hospital or office visits. For those who aren’t hospitalized from the virus, remote patient monitoring and other telehealth solutions can help prevent interruptions in their long-term care.
After the pandemic, telehealth will remain valuable because it allows members to receive care at the exact moment they need it, wherever they are — rather than waiting until their next scheduled in-person appointment.
This is especially beneficial for members with chronic conditions who must engage in self-management at home. Having a direct line of access to their providers to report worsening symptoms or ask questions empowers them to take control of their own health.
Telehealth solutions can also benefit rural populations without easy access to regular care. Specialty care, in particular, is often limited in rural communities. Many rural or semi-rural hospitals already use teleradiology and teleneur
Why Telehealth Will Remain a Valuable Complement to In-Person Care
Telehealth solutions have already proven to be an effective way of communicating with and providing care for members. For example, in 2003, the University of Mississippi Medical Center launched one of the first tele-emergency medical programs. It connected three rural hospitals and their members to its Level 1 trauma center’s advanced services.
As of November 2018, it had expanded its reach to 68 counties throughout the state and recorded more than 500,000 telehealth visits in more than 35 different medical specialties. Other providers now utilizing telehealth technologies are experiencing similar benefits in expanding their ability to communicate and connect with members.
It’s important to remember, however, that with all the benefits of telehealth services, they will never fully replace in-person physician visits. Healthcare can often seem intimidating, cold, and regimented — but it’s the doctors, nurses, and practitioners who can soften the experience with empathy and compassion and help put patients at ease.
Telehealth comes in as an important supplemental tool to ease other factors that might be limiting members’ access to care. Location, transportation, and scheduling issues are just a few. As providers continue to adopt telehealth solutions to enable care, the rapid proliferation of digital patient-provider communication can expand the accessibility of care to wider populations and promote better health outcomes well into the future.
For instance, say a mother calls in because her child has a high fever, and she isn’t sure whether the child should be seen immediately. The nurse on the phone can ask a series of questions to determine the severity of the situation and make recommendations for the best course of action. If the child does not need immediate care, the nurse can provide the mother with medical facts and clear instructions to follow until the child can see the pediatrician. Considering that high fevers and ear infections are among the most common reasons for pediatric ER visits, this represents a major opportunity for savings. Nurse advice lines can also provide guidance for members suffering from mental health problems. If the situation warrants it, nurses on the line can immediately connect members to crisis line services. For less severe scenarios, nurses can help members locate and schedule appointments with behavioral health specialists. When rural members have easier access to educational and actionable advice, they’ll feel more confident and empowered to make the appropriate decisions regarding their care and treatment. In addition, nurse advice lines often include multilingual and live translation options, further expanding access to care. This cultural and language sensitivity can help callers feel more at ease, speak in their native language, and more easily provide information and understand advice. Any follow up materials should also be available in multiple languages so members can continue to gather a full understanding and efficiently build their knowledge after the call.
Implement digital monitoring solutions. Paired with telehealth, remote monitoring technology can solve some of the logistical challenges associated with providing basic primary care and mental health services to rural populations. Remote member monitoring solutions take many forms, from wearable devices to simple text messages. Tools can share device- or member-reported biometric data to alert care providers in real time of dangerous readings, prompting timely intervention. Instead of members waiting for their regular appointments to receive care or medication adjustments, experts can intervene at the exact moment members need it