It’s no secret that technology impacts every industry. Everything is becoming faster, smarter and more convenient—to the point where we wonder if anything that can’t be done online is worth doing at all.
Telehealth is a burgeoning sector that’s disrupting the healthcare industry. Gone are the days when patients had to undergo check ups face-to-face with their primary care provider. Now, they can hop on their webcam and send their records and vital signs to their doctor via other electronic devices—all from the comfort of their home.
It’s no wonder why patients love this trend. In fact, 50 million Americans agree that they would switch their primary care provider to one who offers telehealth, which is why about three fourths (72%) of hospitals and over half (52%) of physician groups offer these services. Any providers still not on board will either go with the telehealth flow or drown swimming upstream.
This virtual wave does spark concerns, like whether or not there’s a compromise of quality for convenience. Can a patient receive the same care through a virtual appointment as they would in person with their physician? Also, how could providers ensure the confidentiality of their patients’ records in the face of healthcare cybersecurity breaches?
Despite these qualms, telehealth will continue to expand and perhaps even dominate the industry. Providers, patients, private organizations and even politicians are on the telehealth bandwagon because of its immense potential for good. Here are five reasons the future of healthcare is virtual.
1. It increases patient compliance and engagement. Noncompliant patients are a pressing issue in healthcare, with almost 40% of physicians reporting that this behavior impeded their ability to provide optimal care. In fact, one survey revealed that up to 75% of patients do not consistently take their prescribed medications as directed. Telehealth and telemedicine services have proven to reduce this problem by giving patients more autonomy in their treatment through self-management platforms. Patients become more engaged and empowered when providers expect them to become non-passive recipients of care.
2. It enables more people to receive quality care. There are 62 million Americans living in rural areas, where less than one tenth of physicians practice. This severe lack of healthcare access for rural communities is yet another issue that telehealth can remedy—that is, as long as these communities have broadband internet and the necessary funds to implement these technological infrastructures. The future looks promising, however, as tech companies like Microsoft have decided to help these underserved communities with strategies to expand broadband access for telehealth services.
3. It makes quality care less expensive. The price for good health is expensive. But having appointments via smart phone or webcam is less costly, more convenient and faster. Seeing a primary care provider in person costs around $130, while the price of an emergency room visit is $1,500. A virtual appointment with a physician, however, costs no more than $50. Telehealth cuts prices for patients, while simultaneously enabling providers to make more money by increasing their number of patients.
4. Patients and providers both enjoy the convenience and flexibility. Of course, convenience is another crucial factor when considering telehealth, and this applies to patients and providers alike. With telehealth, providers will be able to see more patients throughout the day, while maintaining a good work life balance. This factor makes medical work far less stressful and tiring for providers and, in turn, safer for patients.
5. Medicare policies to support telehealth industry are gaining traction. The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2017 is a landmark decision for the future of telehealth. One of the main barriers for expanding telehealth services is the current lack of insurance coverage. Every telehealth bill proposed before this year fell flat with a cold reception. Now, in the wake of a health care crisis, legislators of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus are rallying behind this current bill that will expand coverage for both the types of services and areas where such services can be provided.
All the ways telehealth will disrupt the healthcare industry remain uncertain. Regardless, this sector is here to stay—and for good reasons. No one can deny that the healthcare industry of today has glaring issues to face. Telehealth may be just the remedy the industry needs to make quality care an expectation, instead of a privilege, for all.