Telehealth Trends for 2020 and Beyond

Healthcare Technology

Telehealth solutions, therapy, and platforms are gaining popularity. What trends are influencing telehealth’s growth? And what will the future look like beyond 2020?

You already use telehealth. It’s a broad term including everything from telemedicine (e.g. doctor visits via Zoom, remote patient monitoring) to accessing your medical records through an app. And if you’re one of the nearly 30 million active Fitbit users, you already have a telehealth device.

Given how connected our world is, it’s no surprise that telehealth trends have become a booming part of the health and wellness industry. What changes can we expect 2020 to usher in? And why is telehealth so popular?

What’s Driving Telehealth Growth?

At first glance, it’s easy to say that COVID-19 is the primary force behind telehealth’s adoption; after all, it’s driven the adoption of many remote technologies and paradigms. But that’s not the case; telehealth services were in demand well before the current crisis hit.

There have been a variety of factors behind the initial growth of telehealth, including providing care to patients in isolated areas and making up for a shortage of healthcare personnel. The current forces behind telehealth’s growth are:

Technological advances

Prior to high-speed Internet, it simply wasn’t feasible to video chat, share large files, etc. Now, faster speeds and more reliable signals mean that talking to your specialist in New York while working in New Delhi is completely possible. And, once 5G mobile Internet gets going, experts expect to see further advances in telehealth capabilities.[1]

Patient convenience

It can be difficult for people to physically get to their doctor’s office, whether because of sickness, limited mobility, lack of time or transportation, etc. Also, patients with anxiety issues around medical care (i.e. white coat syndrome) are often more comfortable with remote visits.

Greater government/insurance support

The five major US health insurance companies[2] and Medicare[3] all offer at least some telehealth coverage, although it may depend on the service and plan of the subscriber. All 50 US states have some form of telemedicine legislation on the books, although these also vary considerably; see this Center for Connected Health Policy infographic for details.

Cost/personnel efficiency

Telehealth systems can be more effective and more cost-efficient than traditional systems, especially when there aren’t enough qualified medical personnel available in a given area.[4]

Improved patient outcomes

 The ATA (American Telemedicine Association) states that: “Telehealth reduces the cost of healthcare and increases efficiency with better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays”.

These are very persuasive reasons for the rise of telehealth, but there’s one more: people are willing to use it. From post-Millennials to Baby Boomers, every generation is open to remote health help of different kinds.[4]

4 Key Telehealth Trends for 2020 and Beyond

So, what trends should those interested in telehealth watch? Here are four that have really taken off and will continue to grow:

Increased emphasis on security

With the prevalence of security breaches across the globe, it’s little wonder that telehealth platforms, apps, and services are focusing on tighter security – no one wants to think their most sensitive information is in the hands of hackers. And companies certainly don’t want the liability that comes with a data breach.

An influx of tools and devices

OrthoLive.com forecasts an interesting upcoming force in telehealth: your TV. As most American households have multiple TVs (and everyone knows how to use them), the TV is seen as the next health device, turning into a virtual office visit and remote monitoring assistant. The same post predicts a flurry of additional telehealth tools like home messaging services, at-home monitoring services (e.g. using motion-sensing technology to see if a recovering patient has a fall),  and clinical tools will join the telemedicine revolution.

Remote monitoring and care

Remote monitoring has been shown to improve the care of those with chronic conditions and recently-released hospital patients. This not only helps the medical team ensure that all the correct medication is taken and recovery recommendations are being followed, it allows them to provide proactive care to at-risk populations. It also reduces the length of hospital stays, which is better for both the patient and the overworked medical system.[5,6]

AI joins the medical team

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used to process vast amounts of data, find hidden patterns and insights, and communicate their findings to humans[7]. It has numerous fields, including Natural Language Processing (NLP), Natural Language Generation (NLG), and Machine Learning (ML). Chatbots use NLP and NLG to interactively “converse” with human users; chances are you’ve used an AI-powered customer service chatbot recently. You may not have even realized it. Specially-programmed chatbots can be used to collect symptoms from patients, serving as a remote medical assistant and speeding up the information-gathering process. AI and ML have also been used, among other things, to test the efficacy of drugs against COVID-19 and help doctors make faster, more accurate diagnoses.[8,9]

Telehealth’s Role Will Continue to Expand

For reasons of convenience, care quality, cost-effectiveness, and caution, telehealth is going to continue to grow in 2020 and well into the future. Look for advances in information technology and connectivity to further the development of advanced techniques like robotic surgery, remote patient monitoring, telehealth therapy, and other services.

Sources:

  1.  “5 ways 5G will transform healthcare” https://www.business.att.com/learn/updates/how-5g-will-transform-the-healthcare-industry.html
  2. “How to Verify Patient Insurance for Telehealth”  https://blog.evisit.com/verify-patient-insurance-telehealth#
  3. “Medicare.gov: Telehealth” https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/telehealth
  4. “2019 Consumer Survey: Majority of Consumers are Willing to Use Telehealth but Use Varies by Age” https://business.amwell.com/2019-consumer-survey-majority-of-consumers-are-willing-to-use-telehealth-but-use-varies-by-age/
  5. “Telehealth Momentum Fueling 6 Trends in 2020” https://www.idigitalhealth.com/news/telehealth-momentum-fueling-6-trends-2020
  6. “The newest trends in telehealth in 2020” https://www.mgma.com/resources/health-information-technology/the-newest-trends-in-telehealth-in-2020
  7. “5 trends emerging in telemedicine in 2020” https://thedo.osteopathic.org/2020/01/5-trends-emerging-in-telemedicine-in-2020/
  8. “AI-driven project identifies up to 390 potential drugs against COVID” https://www.bbva.com/en/ai-driven-project-identifies-up-to-390-potential-drugs-against-covid/
  9. “How AI Technologies Accelerate Progress in Medical Diagnosis” https://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2020/03/09/how-ai-technologies-accelerate-progress-in-medical-diagnosis/31184/

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