Research shows that there has been 500-per-cent growth in 2020 for speciality telemedicine visits, led by growth in behavioural health; and a 10-fold increase in utilisation since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The upswing in the use of telemedicine has largely arisen out of necessity. However, the benefits extend well beyond any global health crisis. As we look to the future, it seems that telemedicine will only become a more permanent means of accessing healthcare. Therefore, I see three key areas that will be a focus for insurance providers, software developers, and healthcare workers in the future.
A hybrid of virtual care and in-person evaluations may be the new model for healthcare
An ideal model of medical care is a hybrid model with a mix of virtual care and in-person evaluations. With home sensors and monitors, an array of objective data can be shared virtually including blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rhythm, ECGs, continuous glucose monitoring and point-of-care fingerstick home lab tests, as well as newly developed phone extensions that allow users to take images of the tympanic membrane and retina, hand-held AI-guided ultrasounds, and electronic stethoscopes are making virtual care all the more viable.
These advancements achieve two critical successes for telemedicine:
- They increase the physician’s ability to practice high-quality virtual medicine
While it’s impossible to replace the value of an in-person visit, remote capabilities have continued to grow, giving doctors greater information about a patient’s condition, enabling them to make more thorough evaluations. This not only expands the reach of virtual appointments, but also gives doctors more confidence in their diagnosis/recommendations.
- They open the door to more user experiences
Convincing users that telemedicine is an easy and effective option for healthcare services can sometimes be a difficult task. It begins with changing the patient’s mindset. Getting a user to think of telemedicine before scheduling an in-clinic appointment means deprogramming years of behavioural instincts. Expanding the capabilities of telemedicine provides more opportunities to expose users to the technology and instills more trust in the programme as they continue to use the service.
Telemedicine could help alleviate a range of real-world issues
The issues that telemedicine addresses are practical, real-world issues, especially with regards to accessing quality healthcare from remote areas. However, that ‘access’ doesn’t just include expenses or travel accommodations.
The truth is, wait times are a major factor in patients’ inability to receive necessary treatment. This is a particularly challenging issue in places like the UK, where many travellers visit or work.
The purpose of telemedicine is to prevent issues like this from impeding domestic and foreign members’ access to care. By its very nature, telemedicine flips the traditional healthcare experience on its head. Instead of patients waiting on doctors, the doctors are required to ‘log in’ for appointments, on time, which, in effect, causes them to wait on patients.
Social and financial stress, exacerbated by the pandemic, has increased utilisation of virtual mental health services. There has been a 79-per-cent increase in virtual mental health visits by men, especially for relationship and family issues, and a 75-per-cent increase in virtual mental health visits by women with a trend towards an increase in alcohol and substance dependence. The largest growth is in virtual mental health visits for young adults (those in their teens to twenties), due to a significant rise in anxiety disorders. Thanks to the ease and discretion of virtual care, telemedicine services have been made even more attractive to users, and also support the idea that virtual mental health support is here to stay.
Increasing awareness and ease-of-use is critical
The third area of focus involves stronger marketing strategies and improved user experiences. As insurance providers look to maximise usage, they will continue to raise awareness of telemedicine and educate users on the power of such services.
Companies will continue to improve their platforms in ways that enhance the user experience. Our members are extremely diverse and display varying levels of comfort with technology. With this in mind, we continually develop ways to provide quicker access to our services and simplify the global remote healthcare experience.
As we look to the future of telemedicine, expect to see more capabilities, more engagement, and a more user-friendly platform being developed. Capitalising on these areas of focus will help propel remote medicine to new heights and ensure the permanency of this technology in both the domestic and global healthcare landscapes.