We’re excited to share this post written by Ruth Claire James!
The pandemic has been disruptive, but a silver lining that came out of it is how COVID-19 pushed the healthcare industry to find innovative ways of offering medical services. The health crisis fostered practices from getting prescription medicine by mail to drive-through coronavirus testing, and the increased use of telehealth, which incorporates technology in doctor-patient interactions.
Experts say that lots of these strategies are very likely to linger even after the pandemic. But will telehealth be one of them?
The Rise of Telehealth
Telehealth isn’t a new concept. But after government-issued stay-at-home orders and closures for certain clinic services, patients and healthcare professionals have relied heavily on technology. And even when clinics and hospitals were open to non-COVID patients, several still avoided in-person appointments due to concerns over contracting the virus.
This further propelled the demand for telehealth. In the first quarter of 2020 alone, telehealth visits increased by 50% from the same period in the previous year. In week 13 of 2020, coinciding with WHO’s announcement of a global pandemic, telehealth saw a 154% increase compared with the same week in 2019. During this time, most patients who paid telehealth visits were seeking care for non-COVID conditions. This means that a sizable number of people who would otherwise have seen doctors in clinics opted to go for telehealth, and the numbers show no sign of slowing down.
How Telehealth is Changing the Face of Healthcare
Telehealth visits have brought several positive changes in healthcare. For one, telehealth enables patients to consult with doctors or nurses from the safety of their homes, reducing the gaps in care. Telehealth even promotes the use of digital tools and trackers to better aid patients adhere to their medication schedules.
Patients with chronic conditions also benefit greatly from telehealth. In fact, more than two-thirds of telehealth users over the course of the pandemic are those with chronic conditions. As they only need follow-up and preventative care, telehealth is more cost- and time-efficient for them. Moreover, science and health journalist Brian Mastroianni reports that telehealth makes healthcare services more inclusive. Members of underprivileged communities such as women of color and those living in remote areas now have access to doctors and nurses, thanks to telehealth’s accessibility—even through a mobile phone.
Telehealth hasn’t just changed the way healthcare is delivered, it’s also altered the way healthcare professionals are trained. COVID-19 has made the demand for doctors and nurses skyrocket; so several healthcare providers see telehealth as a promising way to tackle the challenge of shortages. As more experienced clinicians and nurses have embraced technology and become more virtually available—and as online learning is becoming the new norm—virtual healthcare education is also seeing a boom. For nurses, online RN to BSN programs are producing graduates who are up-to-date on the latest healthcare trends and technology. This approach is just as valid as in-person education with the programs being accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
The increasing use of technology in healthcare helps bridge the gap between patient care as well as healthcare education. It’s changed the face of healthcare as we know it, and in a good way.
The Future of Telehealth
Our survey on people’s sentiments about telehealth revealed that 83% of 494 respondents are likely to use telehealth services long after COVID-19 is over. And although telehealth is well received by patients and clinicians, it’s not without its challenges.
As we talked about in our previous column, telehealth has both pros and cons, and the cons shouldn’t be taken lightly—some medical exams still need to be done in-person, and the technology can be costly and unavailable to some patients. But the positive changes of telehealth also cannot be understated.
Moving forward, telehealth will become even more nuanced, studied, and regulated. One thing is certain, however, and it’s that telehealth is here to stay. It’ll keep evolving and becoming better as healthcare professionals and patients become more familiar and knowledgeable about it.
Article written by Ruth Claire James You can reach Ruth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Solely for RarePatientVoice.com