Back in the year 2015, a business review by Harvard had noted down that personalized technology is poised to transform the doctor-patient relationship. Well, it seems the prophecy is turning out to be true. COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly redefined telemedicine in the U.S. healthcare industry.
A recent analysis by the non-profit organization, FAIR Health stated that the number of medical services provided through telehealth was around 8000% higher in April 2020 as compared to April 2019.
Telemedicine (also known as Telehealth), is the practice of providing medical care to patients remotely by medical professional without being physically present. Physicians and patients can interact with each other in real-time with the help of computer screens or other multimedia sources.
As per Fortune Business Insights, the telemedicine market is expected to rise at a CAGR of 23.5% by 2026. Before we explore more into this, let’s take a sneak-peek into the history of telemedicine in the U.S.
Telemedicine Transformations, Then & Now
Telemedicine has a rich history that dates back to the 1950s. The first adoption of hospital-based telemedicine was recorded in the late 1950s between Norfolk State Hospital and the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute when a closed-circuit television was used to provide psychiatric consultations. Since the 1950s, advanced information and telecommunication technologies have played a vital role in shaping up the overall healthcare system.
Coming to the present time, the effect of the global pandemic that emerged in central China around December 2019, has severely strained the healthcare system, but telemedicine is being viewed as a vital cog in offering medical help to patients.
In 2020, Gail Rae-Garwood, fresh after her cancer surgery, opted for a video consultancy with her doctor in Washington D.C. to avoid a strenuous journey and potential exposure to the novel coronavirus across medical institutions. COVID-19 has been conducive to telemedicine with surging demand for its services and technological advancement in recent times.
Let’s see how the COVID-19 pandemic is propelling demand for telemedicine services.
US Telemedicine Extending Helping Hands to Citizens Amid COVID-19 Crisis
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising people to opt for virtual consultancies to limit the effects of the disease. The privately-held telehealth company, American Well, further states that the virtual patient traffic has witnessed an upsurge of 11% since the first COVID-19 death reported in the US.
“We have witnessed an uptick in the number of phone calls received by the patients during the ongoing global pandemic.” says, Amit Parekh, Chief Medical Officer of Grand Rounds Inc.
As reported by several companies, millions of Americans are seeking medical care by connecting online with a doctor, for the very first time. The health systems, physicians, and insurers believe that it will enable people to follow social distancing norms while reducing the impact of the virus and ensuring protection to the health workers alike.
Private technology players such as Amwell, Doctor On Demand, and Teladoc are increasing their focus on providing an online doctor to the patients that find it difficult to move out of their home space whenever the need arises. In another crucial development, American Well, a telemedicine company, in May 2020, raised a whopping USD 194 million to cater to the skyrocketing demand for telemedicine services.
The tremendous help offered by companies in the U.S. shows that the burden on healthcare system will reduce, while ensuring to offer convenience and quality of life to patients.
Government to Ease Regulatory Barriers in the U.S.
The catastrophic spread of the virus has lifted regulatory restrictions on telehealth services.
The US authorities in June 2020, waived off restrictions that obstructed the adoption of telemedicine for government-sponsored schemes such as Medicaid and Medicare. The Congress in a compassionate move announced over USD 200 million rescue packages to help the healthcare professionals initiate remote healthcare services.
Several US states have lifted the regulatory restrictions, while the insurance companies are working towards waiving off co-payments for the consultation services.
Privacy regulations that led to the limitations in the adoption of technology such as video consultations have been lifted, thereby allowing use of consumer-friendly services such as FaceTime and Skype.
Today, an array of telemedicine benefits has come to the fore as its application is proving to be an effective tool to the strained health-care system. This potential is realized by the government agencies and the private companies as it provides both medical providers and seekers with timely, robust, and advanced tools for primary care, early diagnosis, and long-term evaluation of medical conditions.
Will the world return back to normalcy? Well, I guess may be or may not be! The world may not return to normalcy as it was before COVID-19 and neither will the healthcare industry. However, the evolution of telemedicine has taken its course as the lifting of regulations on the telemedicine services is anticipated to accelerate its potential to be a game-changer for patients and doctors in the near future.
Other Notable Developments in the U.S.
The pandemic situation has certainly brought telemedicine services to the fore as it is bridging gap between physicians, patients, and healthcare systems by establishing communication through virtual channels. Additionally, the state policymakers are focusing on providing optimum teleheatlh care to the patients.
In March 2020, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott issued a national healthcare declaration that allows the healthcare service providers to treat patients using telemedicine solutions. Likewise, Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, issued orders to state commercial insurers and health plans to cover telehealth services.
Telemedicine is evolving rapidly with the platforms being increasingly secure, along with improved connectivity and infrastructure. Owing to the current novel coronavirus situation, the U.S administration is advising the doctors and patients to adopt telemedicine services.
Dawn of the Telemedicine Era
Today, 76% of the hospitals in the U.S. are engaging with the patients through telehealth, according to the American Hospital Association.
The COVID-19 situation has further led to a vitalizing factor in terms of adoption of telemedicine services across the country. A recent Sykes survey report estimates that nearly two-thirds of the Americans have shown willingness to adopt telemedicine services in the future.
As they say, there are two sides to the same coin, a vast majority of Americans still prefer to receive medical care from the doctors in person rather than adopting remote technologies.
Telemedicine is set to accomplish unchartered heights; however, it cannot completely replace a strong healthcare system that is dependent on competent providers and health systems. It might be an obvious case that the telemedicine services are witnessing a bubble that may burst post-COVID-19. However, the U.S. with its mature telehealth service providers and their overall cumulative experience is responding to the pandemic situation efficiently. The importance of telemedicine services has come to the fore, and the key stakeholders are embracing the technology that is anticipated to be an integral part of the healthcare system.