How Telehealth Has Been Influenced by the Pandemic – and Why it’s Here to Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic brought changes for not only individual people, but for industries as well. Grocery stores made it easier for customers to do their shopping online, and real estate agencies started offering virtual house tours. The medical industry is no exception, as telehealth saw a significant expansion due to pandemic-related restrictions that limited in-person visits to the doctor’s office. Medical practices of every kind started offering their services online, and therapists started working with patients on TheraPlatform and similar platforms.

Telehealth exploring

This worked well for both medical professionals and their patients during the height of the pandemic, but what about now? As it turns out, a lot of people prefer the convenience and efficiency of telehealth compared to traditional doctor’s visits. Even though it’s possible to visit doctors or therapists in person, many people are opting to have their appointments online. The convenience of attending a telehealth appointment from your own home is a big plus, but there are several other reasons why telehealth is here to stay.

The Benefits

Improved engagement between medical professionals and patients

Those with chronic or long-term illnesses may need regular appointments with their doctor to keep tabs on their symptoms, but that can be tough if they have to make multiple trips per month to their healthcare provider’s office. The same goes for therapy, which typically involves weekly appointments. If virtual appointments are available, though, healthcare professionals are able to remotely monitor patients and reduce the effort involved in periodic checkups.

Lower costs

The cost of healthcare doesn’t just include the fees you pay at the doctor’s office; you also have to account for the cost of transportation and gas, childcare, parking, and the money you aren’t earning while you’re away from work. You might still have to take time off or make other arrangements in order to be available for a telehealth appointment, but the associated expenses will still be way lower compared to a typical visit to see a doctor or therapist.

Safety concerns

While a lot of people are still concerned about COVID-19 and its variants, there are many other infectious diseases that make their way into healthcare facilities. Those who are elderly or very young are most susceptible, and whether or not we’re in the middle of a pandemic, telehealth offers a solution that doesn’t involve coming into contact with communicable diseases. It won’t always be possible to attend appointments virtually instead of in-person, but as long as the alternative exists, why not use it when you can?

telehealth

Improved technologies

Telehealth has been around for years, but the demand just wasn’t sufficient to motivate healthcare providers to expand their offerings. Plus, many telehealth platforms were clumsy or inadequate, which certainly didn’t motivate patients or healthcare providers to use them more frequently. Once the pandemic hit, though, the number (and quality) of telehealth platforms increased rapidly to accommodate demand. The concept of telehealth was already solid, but thanks to recent advancements in technology, the execution of it has improved as well. 

Changing insurance regulations

For many telemedicine providers, what they do is just as new to them as it is to their patients. For example, the process of billing health insurance companies for virtual appointments isn’t as straightforward as it is for in-person office visits. Insurance companies don’t currently cover telehealth appointments like they do visits to a physical doctor’s or therapist’s office, so it’s a bit of a gray area in some cases. That being said, insurance companies are receiving more and more claims for telehealth-related services, so they’re likely to revise their policies to include this new aspect of modern healthcare. 

Convenience

This is probably one of the most obvious benefits of telehealth. After all, most people have a much easier time reaching a computer, tablet, or mobile device than they do a physical office in another part of town. It’s especially helpful for those who live in areas with limited local healthcare resources; telemedicine providers can offer them healthcare services no matter how far away they are.

The Challenges

Even though telehealth has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years, it still faces a few challenges.

Platforms have been developed, offerings have been expanded, and healthcare providers have made themselves available for online appointments. Even so, there are some hurdles that the telehealth industry has to overcome. 

Healthcare market

Scalability

Providing telehealth services to 50% of your practice is much different than providing it to 10% of your practice. This is the obstacle faced by many healthcare providers; in order to keep up with demand, they have to make significant investments in infrastructure and personnel. Depending on how big the expansion is, there could be delays while financial resources are lined up to meet the projected budget. 

HIPAA compliance

Most healthcare providers already have measures in place to protect digital patient records, but there are specific vulnerabilities that come with virtual appointments with a doctor or therapist. HIPAA requires healthcare providers to offer data security, data protection, and long-term data retention, so telehealth platforms must comply with these requirements while also serving the needs of doctors and patients. 

Mobility of patient data

Telehealth platforms need to do a lot more than just connect patients and healthcare providers via video calls; they also need to make it easy for clinicians to access patient data, logins, and any relevant applications. Also, these records should automatically update to include the most recent patient records, financial details, and appointment notes. 

IT-related limitations

Any telemedicine provider will already have a certain level of IT resources, but expanded telehealth offerings will require a bigger IT team, a more generous budget, and roomier facilities. If a healthcare provider is starting from scratch, they’ll have to decide whether they want to start small and build from there, or put together an IT team that gives their virtual practice plenty of room to grow. 

The takeaway

Even though the popularity of telehealth was kick-started by the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like this has become the preferred option for people all across the nation.