The year 2020 catapulted telehealth and virtual care into the spotlight. Telehealth and virtual care have changed and grown dramatically in the last year, with more growth on the horizon. Many organizations and experts in the medical field have predictions on the future of telehealth, and how it will continue to grow. While no one can ever be certain what will happen in the world of medicine and health care, we do know that virtual care is here, and it is staying.
Pre-COVID-19 virtual care trends
Virtual care existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but on a much different scale. It often took the form of 24-hour hotlines or online resources from clinician’s offices. Even so, these virtual resources were not commonly used before the shutdowns of March 2020. Pre-COVID 56.4% of Americans didn’t think that telehealth would give them comparable care to in-person visits.
Patients and clinicians alike worried that virtual care options would be too impersonal and not lead to long-lasting relationships. Many people weren’t even aware of the option to see their physician virtually. From 2016-2019, the number of virtual health appointments steadily grew. When surveyed, many clinicians agreed that while virtual health appointments would keep increasing, it would be slow and steady growth. Many experts believed the U.S. was years away from a true digital health transformation.
Opinions change on virtual care
When lockdowns went into place, and everything turned virtual, many regular health appointments were canceled or pushed back. But care couldn’t be delayed inevitably. Virtual appointments became the obvious solution.
By March of 2021, an estimated 61% of Americans had a virtual care appointment, up from 19% in March 2020. Patients and health care providers who may have been skeptical of virtual appointments now say they get to have appointments in a more timely manner, and like the fact that they cut back on the cost and time of travel.
Post-COVID-19 virtual care trend predictions
Just like many workplaces are shifting to hybrid solutions, healthcare is expected to do the same. In-person appointments will always be an option, but now so will virtual care appointments.
“Virtual care (of all types) will become a lasting form of care”
Sarahjane Sacchetti, CEO, Cleo
Now that we’re one year in to the “new normal,” telehealth growth is starting to plateau. Virtual appointments that experienced a sharp increase in March of 2020 have now stabilized at levels 38x higher than they were pre-COVID-19. The types and quality of telehealth and virtual care appointments are changing.
Clinicians and health systems that scrambled to cobble together a telehealth presence–using free or consumer-grade tools like Zoom and Facetime–are now searching for permanent solutions that were designed specifically for health systems.
Patients who were once reticent about online appointments now expect that many of their appointments can be handled virtually. They often prefer the simplicity and convenience of these virtual health check-ins. Similarly, many clinicians who were once skeptical about virtual care have now embraced it as a way to improve access to more people, regardless of geographic location.
As more health systems and organizations adopt telehealth solutions, the ones who prioritize a flexible, virtual-first approach to care will be the ones that thrive. They will be able to improve patient access to care, boost patient engagement, and reduce levels of clinician burnout.
If your organization hasn’t already, it’s time to make the switch to virtual health care that works the way you do.
- The American Hospital Association (AHA) supports telehealth and the growth of telehealth across the country. This article provides facts about the growth of telehealth in the past years, and reasons why AHA supports this growth and thinks it should be invested in.
- A survey of telemedicine use done throughout the United States presented by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This survey was completed in three phases from April 23, 2020- July 5, 2021.
- Katie Adams from Becker’s Hospital Review presents a list of facts on how Americans view on telehealth has changed since the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020-March 2021).
- According to MGMA, Telehealth is now at least a $66 billion industry and has become a very successful way to practice medicine and help patients. Healthcare providers now find it more convenient to help patients remotely.
- The American Medical Association presents information on previous telehealth trends (2016-2019). Telehealth was growing slowly and was expected to continue at that rate. COVID-19 impacted the telehealth industry more than was ever thought possible and now a majority of healthcare providers use it, and it is expected to keep growing.
- The use of telehealth has stabilized at levels 38x higher than before the pandemic according to this report by McKinsey. It is expected to keep growing into a larger industry as consumers and health care providers both enjoy it. A ranking of telehealth use across different medical specialties is listed.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information backing the fact that telehealth can increase access to care, and reduce the strain on hospitals across the country.
- 12 medical experts give their opinions and predictions on the future of telehealth. All 12 of them expect it to keep growing.