Telehealth was still a niche technology two years ago. Now, it’s at the forefront of the healthcare industry. Last March, integration ramped up quickly as the coronavirus spread and more providers extended telemedicine to their patients. During the first quarter of 2020, telehealth visits increased by 50% compared to the year previous, marking a 154% increase during the last week of March.
Now, it seems telehealth is here to stay, and for good reason. The marriage of healthcare and technology has intertwined the two industries forever by improving patient care throughout the pandemic. Here are just a few ways telehealth has shaped the way Americans receive care.
1. Reduced Risk Of Exposure
Before the invention and integration of telehealth, everyone had to show up at a doctor’s office and sit in a waiting room to see a physician. During the pandemic, however, doing so would put patients at a higher risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19.
By keeping patients at home and virtually screening them for COVID-19 symptoms, physicians could determine who they truly needed to see in person and who they could diagnose from afar. Ultimately, this extra step kept both patients and staff safe. It also freed up rooms and supplies for patients who needed in-person care.
2. Expanded Patient Access
Because so many people were trying to avoid doctors’ offices during the pandemic, many people who wouldn’t typically use telehealth began to receive virtual care. For instance, those with autoimmune disorders and other chronic health conditions began to rely on remote visits to protect their own health and safety. Meanwhile, older populations who may have been stuck at home or in nursing homes began to use mobile phones and computers to meet with doctors.
Now, telehealth is expanding access to even more people as those in rural communities and poor urban communities start to use online chats, video calls and other included services. In doing so, they’ll pay less for transportation and enjoy shorter wait times. Of course, there are still shortcomings, such as a lack of broadband access in some low-income communities. However, the healthcare and technology industries are working overtime to close these gaps and further expand access in the coming years.
3. More Effective Communication
Telehealth has also improved patient care by providing opportunities for more effective communication. For instance, when a patient and doctor meet one-on-one in a telemedicine encounter, the physician is completely free of all the typical distractions in a busy medical office. Subsequently, they’re able to give the patient their full attention. Meanwhile, the patient is enjoying the comfort of their own home, which may prompt them to share more information or be honest about symptoms of illness and medication use.
Virtual visits also allow for more frequent communication, especially between doctors and patients with acute or ongoing conditions. In this instance, following up after a visit is as easy as hopping on your laptop and chatting through the screen. During this time, the physician can share lab tests and diagnostic imaging results face-to-face.
4. Remote Health Monitoring
Wearables that monitor heart rate, oxygen levels, blood sugar levels and other health factors have also gained popularity throughout the pandemic. These devices allow physicians to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs and, in some cases, receive an alert if their levels fluctuate outside of a healthy range. This technology is especially helpful for patients with chronic conditions and those who require 24/7 monitoring.
Patients who are on medications for long-term treatment may also benefit from monitoring. If everything is going well, an in-person appointment may be unnecessary. However, a quick video chat may be the perfect way to check in and ensure the treatment is still effective. The physician may also inquire as to whether the patient has developed any side effects so they can prescribe a different medication if need be.
5. Increased Autonomy
Telehealth has also given patients more autonomy and allowed them to take ownership of the healthcare they receive. Patients have the freedom to make appointments that suit their schedules. They have access to digital test results and health records. More people can use this technology to meet with providers outside of their area, which might help them find more affordable services.
Thus, patients become more involved in their healthcare plans. Their engagement can help them make better decisions regarding their health. In this way, telehealth can empower them to take better care of both their physical and mental well-being.
The Future of Telehealth
In the coming years, you’ll likely see automation play a key role in telehealth improving patient care. More providers will integrate telehealth into their systems to provide a more cohesive, patient-centered experience. In all turns, patient care will remain the focus so you can feel empowered and take better control of your health.