The booming business of telemedicine is the future of healthcare. In 2019, more than 75% of U.S. hospitals used video services to connect with their patients. The popularity of telemedicine grew at a rapid rate in the late 2010s, but the emergence of COVID-19 spurred many to try telehealth for the first time. In just the first quarter of 2020 alone, there were over 1,500,000 telehealth visits. 61% of Americans have now had at least one telehealth appointment, which is a 3x increase since March of 2020.
Telehealth is nearly 100 years old but is only now becoming mainstream. A brief timeline of telehealth starts in the 1920s when radio was used to give medical advice to ship clinicians. By the 1960s, primary and emergency services were transmitted via microwave. There was a surge in the use of videoconferencing for healthcare in the 1990s, and the growth of new technologies leads us to where telehealth is today.
Telemedicine provides innovative solutions to help increase access and quality medical care. It can help control and diagnose low-incidence diseases. Apps and phone gadgets like MedWand, Headspace, and AliveCor, give patients at-home diagnostic tools, mental health services, and electrocardiograms. Wearables such as sensor-embedded clothing, smartwatches, and oncology mHealth Intelligence allow individuals to constantly monitor their health status. Finally, mail-in labs allow people to test for allergies, genetic information, food sensitivities, and COVID-19.
Telehealth has faced many challenges but has continued to thrive even through these opposing barriers. Currently, 41% of patients have limited access to the internet, but this issue is being solved with federal broadband initiatives. Issues with licensing also arose, but recent legislation allows telehealth practitioners to reach across state lines. Concerns over misdiagnoses have subsided after studies showed no significant difference between in-person and telehealth diagnoses. Even public skepticism has declined; the majority of studies show patients now prefer telehealth over in-person visits.
The Benefits of Telehealth and Telemedicine
One of telehealth’s biggest benefits is increased access. Telemedicine helps those in need by implementing programs that serve high-risk and rural populations; patients can save up to three hours commuting, or 100 driven miles by utilizing telemedicine. Telehealth initiatives are increasing healthcare cost parity. Telemedicine has expanded access to acute care as well; now, 59% of Medicare patients have access to a laptop.
Virtual healthcare systems also reduce costs. Patients save money and time by eliminating the need to commute to the doctor’s office and take time off work. 31% of individuals using telehealth platforms say their healthcare costs decreased when using remote services. These lowered healthcare costs have a savings estimate of somewhere between 17% and 75%.
Telemedicine will continue to boom. Currently, over three-quarters of patients would consider using telemedicine. Now that many Americans have tried it, most want these services to continue. 80% of patients believe telehealth offers the same quality of care as in-person visits, rising from 56% prior to the pandemic. Patients now expect their doctors to provide telehealth and digital tools and 83% expect to use telehealth after the pandemic subsides. The future of healthcare is just a few taps away.