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Telehealth has a long history in American healthcare and has been steadily growing in use over the years. After the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the nation saw a surge in telehealth utilization unlike any other. Virtual care solutions proved to be helpful as many providers closed their practices to non-urgent needs. These solutions became avenues providers could use to tackle challenges the pandemic presented. These included recovering lost revenue, providing patients with quality care, restoring patient volume, and ensuring safety when reopening.
The growth in virtual care has been exponential, but this year has only shown the beginning of what telehealth could accomplish. An analysis found that approximately 20% of all Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial outpatient, office, and home healthcare spend could transition to virtual care. As we look to how the future in healthcare could appear, it is not to say everything will be done remotely or virtually. Instead, we outline the impact that greater adoption of virtual care management alongside in-person visits could have on delivering the best care solutions to patients.
2020 was a year unlike any other. This couldn’t be truer for the healthcare industry, especially as the demand for virtual care services quickly grew because of COVID-19. In our latest eBook, we explore how the pandemic led to telehealth’s growth and the positive impact a few virtual care solutions had on providers during this time.
Historically, providers have not been able to deliver telehealth services over state lines. Despite virtual care platforms being built to cross over physical barriers, physicians were unable to conduct services virtually if it was out of state. Once the pandemic came in 2020, CMS proposed permanent changes to the federal government to expand telehealth and sustain its growth. The Executive Order was approved to advance efforts in improving access and convenience of care for Medicare beneficiaries. This change removed those previous barriers and allowed providers to work and help patients across the country.
The expansion of virtual care has already taken effect and provided more access to care for patients. According to Modern Healthcare, telehealth accounted for more than 40% of primary care visits for patients with traditional Medicare in this past year. Virtual care proved that it can be used for more than minor medical issues and offer an array of services remotely.
Now as providers transition into letting patients back into their offices, the potential and growth for telehealth continue. “The most promising developments [for telehealth] include virtual care resources to help expand access to primary care and support chronic disease management, behavioral health, and certain types of specialty care (dental, vision, and hearing),” said Health Payer Intelligence.
The key for sustaining telehealth is to incorporate it into more than primary care, but into care management solutions as well.
Care management refers to the comprehensive services that help patients with chronic conditions to manage their health. In a survey conducted by RAND Corp., they found over two-thirds of respondents believe a trusted relationship with a nurse or other clinicians is central to managing chronic conditions. These relationships and services can be found in remote care programs such as chronic care management (CCM) and remote patient monitoring (RPM) where Medicare patients feel empowered to manage their conditions and supported by a care team while at home and in between office visits.
Implementing virtual care solutions with senior patients does not have to present technological challenges. Patients can be eased into the use of technology by employing the right programs for them. CCM provides a consistent, monthly phone touchpoint and RPM requires configuring medical devices with light supervision and consistent monitoring of their conditions. Telehealth allows patients to access care remotely, help them better manage their conditions, and adopt technology at their own pace.
In the past, senior patients often did not feel comfortable or prepared to use telehealth services, but during the pandemic, the favorability towards virtual care technology rose. According to a study by the Better Medicare Alliance, over three-quarters of seniors who used telehealth said that they would do so again in the future. In fact, more than nine in ten respondents reported that they had a positive experience with virtual care.
Although there has been an increase in telehealth use this year, the way to continue this momentum into the future is by making it accessible and easy to use for older patients. They are the ones who will benefit from it the most because of their health concerns. They can also find positive experiences with remote care resources through understanding the technology and accommodating it to their needs.
Over the next decade, healthcare is expected to see a huge amount of technological change. Advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be large factors in the transformation and growth of digitalized healthcare. If patients become familiar with telehealth now, they can be better prepared for a future of advanced virtual care solutions.
The market for virtual care management is expected to grow exponentially as well. Before the pandemic, telehealth accounted for about $3 billion. With providers using it during the pandemic, they were able to care for up to 175 times the number of patients that they normally would before it. This led experts to estimate that the market could grow to potentially account for $250 billion of what Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurers spend on outpatient, office, and home health visits.
The access to care, the technology, and the telehealth market will only keep growing over the years, and after 2020, patients have shown they are ready to grow with it. Virtual care solutions may not be able to replace every healthcare service but being paired with in-person visits can help make for stronger, better solutions for patients and providers alike.
Virtual care technology saves time and money, lowers barriers to patient engagement, and reduces emergency department and urgent care center visits. It also allows patients to receive more one-on-one time with their healthcare team and be in control of managing their health. By improving patient outcomes with virtual care technology, providers can focus on their in-person visits and offer a higher quality of care.
The future of healthcare is one that leverages virtual care management to support and improve value-based care solutions. Telehealth is here to stay and there is no better time to invest in it than now.