With the pandemic situation beginning to stabilize and the initial shock passing us by, we can now start discussing the future of telemedicine and how it will impact healthcare in general. To do so, the Tooploox team has examined the current trends and harvested a few insights, and thus has got a glimpse of the future of telehealth technology.
The healthcare system has been the silent hero of the pandemic situation. With physicians and nurses saving lives daily, the whole health industry experienced extreme pressure. While the pandemic posed an unprecedented threat, the rest of our usual diseases did not disappear – and telehealth solutions appeared to be the most convenient and safe response to the needs of patients.
The telemedicine growth statistics
The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered an unwitnessed boost in demand for telehealth services. According to the McKinsey company report, telehealth utilization has stabilized at levels 38X higher than in the pre-pandemic world. After an April 2020 peak, the share of telehealth visits was maintained between 13 and 17 percent of all visits examined in the report.
McKinsey has estimated that before the pandemic up to $250 billion of US healthcare spending could be switched to telemedicine or similar services. The pandemic has shown that this direction can be profitable. The report delivered by the Precedence Research estimates that the telehealth market size is projected to be worth up to $224.8 billion by 2030.
The shift has also been seen among patients. The McKinsey report states that only 11% of patients were interested in attending remote consultations and overall telehealth support before the pandemic. This share changed to 76% in 2020. According to the Rockhealth survey, before the pandemic, no more than 44% of patients reported that their primary care provider (PCP) offered telehealth services. In August 2021 that share rose to 80%.
The Technology Used In Telemedicine
Similar to other industries, telemedicine is also using already established and existing technologies rather than inventing new ones for the sake of the pandemic. But the share of utilized technologies changed to better serve the needs of this new reality.
The year 2021 was the first to make the live video call the dominant telehealth technology, with 51% of patients using this technology to access their doctors. Before 2021, the live phone call was the dominant telemedicine technology, used by 64% of users at its peak in 2018 and 2019.
Since 2018, it has become popular to use healthcare apps or websites to access telehealth services, with usage reaching 37% in 2021.
The telehealth trends that have changed
The pandemic can be considered a stress test for the whole healthcare industry, igniting the need for innovation and redefining approaches toward the established truths of the telemedicine market.
Telehealth As A Business Model Vs. Telemedicine As A Tool
The lockdowns have delivered a forced switch toward telemedicine services, even for more traditional healthcare providers. While being locked in their homes, patients were still in need of appointments and prescriptions.
While the pre-pandemic approach considered telemedicine software as a business model designed to provide separate services, the current approach considers the technology to be a tool that can be used alongside more conventional services for the convenience of patients.
As an example, the McKinsey report shows that 63% of psychiatric and psychological patients already attend appointments either using the telephone or some other form of telemedicine technology.
The overall telehealth industry is no longer a separate being – it is rather a toolset that is used by both established companies and innovators alike.
Virtual Care Vs. Virtual-First Care
The lockdowns forced the separation of the patient and the physician to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, introducing telemedicine components in traditional workflows has shown that in-person relationships with the doctor need not be the default in delivering healthcare.
A Rock Health report shows that the pandemic has accelerated these already visible trends, showing that the remote visit can be only a part of a more comprehensive and holistic approach to healthcare. The modern ecosystem consists of monitoring apps, wearables, and online platforms that are considered technology-powered first contact points, however, follow-up traditional doctor appointments are not optional.
Mass Vs. Narrow Needs
Telemedicine can be compared to e-commerce, where the mass clientele available online can be better served by narrowing target groups. For example, there are services built for autoimmune diseases, reproductive health, and LGBTQ+ patients.
A good example comes from Mindgram, a telehealth startup focused strictly on delivering mental care services to patients. Mindgram enriches telemedicine psychiatry and psychology care with wellbeing and coaching components to provide even better services to their focus group of patients.
Insights to follow in 2022
The field of telemedicine is expanding rapidly, with the pandemic environment delivering new opportunities and challenges every day. Yet in summing up the gathered knowledge, there are insights to be leveraged today.
Insight 1: Telemedicine Will Become Asynchronous
The medical field transferred into remote work using similar tools as the rest of the world. Mostly it was about teleconferencing software. The changing legal landscape as well as the improved adoption of telemedicine apps will change this approach and make other asynchronous forms of communication more popular.
Insight 2: Most Patients Are Satisfied With Telemedicine
In 2022, with the pandemic slowly passing, consumers are seeing telehealth services as an alternative to the traditional system, not a replacement as was seen during the first lockdowns in 2020. These services are considered a convenient alternative, where patients are not required to commute or wait in queues.
The Rock Health report states that 28% of patients are more satisfied with traditional in-person consultation than with live video calls. Furthermore, only 32% strongly prefer live consultations over phone calls and 28% prefer in-person consultations rather than using apps or websites.
On the other hand, this approach works best during routine visits, for example, to renew prescriptions or get flu treatments. When the case is more serious and the patient does not know what to expect, in-person visits are more desired.
Insight 3: Telemedicine Suffers From Inequality In Access
It is most common for high-earners and young people to use telemedicine services. Also, telemedicine does not solve the challenges of low access to healthcare in typically excluded groups.
Technology is both the enabler and the barrier – for example, according to a Pew study, African and Hispanic American adults living in the US are less likely to have access to a computer or the high-quality internet connections necessary to use telemedicine services. This renders online doctor appointments much less accessible.
The relationship between the patient and the doctor is traditionally seen as necessary in healthcare. With the Covid-19-induced digitization of these relationships between people, this bond was also digitized and will most likely stay this way.
If you wish to talk more about the impact that technology has on the healthcare industry and how telemedicine has impacted healthcare, don’t hesitate to contact us now!