By Erica Jain
The COVID pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of telehealth, which has increasingly played a critical role in access to healthcare services for a wide range of patients.
This is a strong positive outcome for our healthcare system, and the industry continues to expand this new mode of care delivery. Telehealth has been proven to reduce costs of care, lead to better health outcomes for patients, and deliver better experiences for both clinicians and clients.
We are now living in Telehealth 2.0: telehealth beyond the video visit. Innovative healthcare organizations are leveraging technology to drive long-term patient relationships and build fundamentally better patient experiences. What does this mean for the industry, and how do we build on the momentum created by COVID-19 for this needed innovation?
The pandemic permanently boosted telehealth adoption
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When the pandemic hit, the entire healthcare system was forced to roll out virtual visits overnight. Hospitals at overcapacity with COVID-19 patients migrated other patients to video visits for routine follow-ups, nondiagnostic procedures, and wellness check-ups. Similar changes were rolled out by clinics, doctor’s offices, and others to address COVID infection concerns by providers and patients alike. The result was that, across many healthcare settings, patients who needed to meet with a healthcare professional had no choice but to download an app of their provider’s choosing to connect.
As a result, telehealth visits rose by nearly 80x between February and April 2020, and even after that initial spike, telehealth visits stabilized at a rate 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, all of this according to a McKinsey study.
Fortunately, the industry quickly realized that telehealth’s convenience and positive impact on access meant that both patients and providers alike viewed telehealth more favorably than before the pandemic. Rapid, permanent shifts to Medicare and Medicaid regulations have also fostered wider acceptance and reimbursement for telehealth.
For all of these reasons, the past three years have seen unprecedented levels of investment in virtual care. Venture investment in digital health more than doubled in 2021, to an all-time high of $29 billion, and the industry shows very few signs of slowing down. Healthcare is a trillion industry overdue for sweeping innovation, and we are top of the first inning relative to the changes we’ll continue to see in coming years. Telehealth has proven to be a pillar of this wave of innovation.