How the Telehealth Boom Has Changed the Healthcare Industry

A doctor on a telehealth video call with a patient.
A doctor on a telehealth video call with a patient.

In recent years, telehealth has grown in popularity, but 2020 was its banner year. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage exploded. Policymakers encouraged the rapid adoption among healthcare providers to comply with shelter-in-place and physical distancing orders, and patients of all ages and backgrounds became more comfortable connecting with physicians from their home via smartphones, tablets and computers.

Compared to the start of the pandemic, the sharp spike in telehealth usage has leveled off, but it is anticipated that standard usage will continue to rise. Recent estimates indicate that with this significant increase in telehealth adoption, up to $250 billion of the current U.S. healthcare spend could potentially be virtualized.

Now, healthcare leaders must consider what increased telehealth adoption means for their organizations. In an increasingly virtual world, it is essential to rethink the physical environment and how it can be optimized for the current and future landscape. This includes rethinking what it means for the entire healthcare ecosystem, from patients and their loved ones to clinicians and administrative staff.

Telehealth by the numbers

Adoption of telehealth rapidly increased from 11% of US consumers using telehealth in 2019 to 46% of consumers now using telehealth to replace in person healthcare visits. 83% of patients expect to continue to use telemedicine after the pandemic resolves. Because of these staggering numbers, the global telehealth market is projected to reach $559.52 billion by 2027.

Healthcare must adopt telehealth

Like all digital platforms, telehealth platforms have the potential for rapid scalability at little to no incremental cost and with little loss of service. This is something the technology sector understands, but an area that the healthcare industry has lagged behind. But just as digital platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Uber have disrupted other industries, a pandemic-induced disruption has now arrived for healthcare.

Healthcare organizations have criticized virtual care platforms as being expensive technological investments that reduce the amount of revenue that an in-person visit would achieve. However, organizations that continue to resist telehealth for such reasons are at risk of being left behind.

The healthcare industry is moving from a fee-for-service model toward value-based care. These value-based models have great potential to align incentives across the industry and promote improved care and outcomes while lowering cost. Such value-based care models will not be successful without virtual health.

Building a long-term telehealth strategy

As the pandemic has worn on, it has become clear that healthcare providers need to map out long-term strategies for such services. The approach of rapidly scaling up virtual care offerings when they were needed most in 2020 is not a sustainable business model for the future.

Now that many states are allowing elective procedures to take place again, telehealth volumes are down from where they were last year. While use of these platforms may have declined from that peak, we do not expect utilization ever to return to January 2020 levels. As people have been forced to use virtual care services, patient and physician resistance has largely faded, and this change is here to stay.

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