Telehealth, which proved vital at the height of the pandemic, continues to be a valuable tool for clinicians. But what form will it take going forward and how will compensation be doled out? These are among the many questions that government officials and healthcare organizations continue to grapple.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 52.7 million Medicare visits were conducted via telehealth platforms in 2020 – i.e., the year the pandemic first struck the U.S. – a marked increase from the year before, when there were just 840,000 such visits.
Telehealth is valuable for seniors, who continue to prefer face-to-face interactions with clinicians but “reported being satisfied with the convenience of telemedicine, the ability to connect, the effort made to help them understand their health issues, the quality of the video, the privacy and the duration of the visit,” according to a September 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Moreover, telehealth can help address the need for healthcare in underserved areas of our country. With that in mind, the Biden Administration has committed to investing $19 million in such services for those communities. The American Medical Association and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have likewise continued to advance measures that will extend telehealth’s reach.
The private sector is no less cognizant of telehealth’s potential, as indicated by the fact that the technology’s global market size is expected to balloon to $175 billion by 2026, up from $14 billion in 2019 – even though the healthcare sector has typically been slow to embrace innovation. As Oliver Kharraz, CEO of the telehealth booking service Zocdoc, told CNBC, “We are more like a Galapagos turtle, and it takes a long time.”
Certainly there are signs of change, like Amazon’s purchase in July 2022 of the primary-care provider One Medical and its launch four months later of Amazon Clinic, which the company billed as a means to “empower people to take control of their health” by giving them access to “a network of leading telehealth providers based on their preferences.”
That move, coupled with one like CVS’s acquisition of Signify Health, shows the significance telehealth can be expected to have in the years ahead. It is convenient, helps improve outcomes and can also help alleviate the burdens of clinicians faced with the increasing needs of an aging population (not to mention decreasing staff sizes).
While there continue to be questions about the future of telemedicine – the numerous pros have helped validate its ongoing need. Telehealth, in whatever form it takes in the years to come, will be an important part of healthcare going forward. It might need to be reshaped, but it should never be discounted nor discarded.