Telehealth in the midst of the pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed significant growth in the Telehealth industry as it offered a bridge to care: providing the patient access to healthcare while also minimizing the exposure and ensuring the safety of the healthcare providers.
A recent study shows that in April 2020, the overall Telehealth usage for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February 2020. This spike was attributed to the increased willingness of both consumers and providers to use telehealth, as well as the changes in the regulatory environment that enable greater access to this virtual mode of healthcare. However, this is far from the end of this industry’s growth as the global Telehealth and telemedicine market is projected to reach US$ 285.7 billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 26.6%.
Telehealth can transform the healthcare industry
Telehealth could open doors to several other benefits beyond the convenience and advantages it provided during the COVID-19 crisis. One of the significant advantages is allowing routine care to be more accessible and efficient for the patient. According to the US CDC, chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability and are the leading contributors to annual healthcare expenditures. In order to manage chronic diseases, consistent monitoring and therapy are needed to slow down their progress. This is where telehealth could provide a major reinforcement as it enables the patient to self-manage while allowing the healthcare providers to ensure compliance with medications. This has a huge potential to reduce hospital admissions and patient travel costs while also increasing patient and provider satisfaction. In addition, this could also reduce the visits to the emergency room, which are 12 times as expensive as a regular doctor’s visit, thereby costing more than US$32 billion annually.
In addition to managing routine care and helping in battling chronic diseases, Telehealth also has the potential to help with the care for situations where physical one-on-one interactions are not required (i.e. areas such as psychology, etc.), caring for the growing geriatric population, serving the medically underserved population (especially in the rural areas), as well as aid with the current shortage of physicians and healthcare providers.
What’s holding Telehealth back?
Although there has been an increase in adoption in the use of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still multiple barriers that prevent it from reaching its full potential. The primary concern in the space is the security of the technology, with plenty of possibilities for fraud that could result in the loss of credibility and faith in telehealth among healthcare providers and patients alike.
In addition, there is also the disparity between the regulations and policies in different regions, as well as behavioral barriers such as lack of awareness among the healthcare providers and patients to the emerging healthcare technologies that lead to them refusing the modern practices and leaning toward the conventional in-person approach.
What’s next for Telehealth?
According to a report released by McKinsey and Company, there was also a recent significant increase in investment in the virtual and digital care space. In the first half of 2021 alone, the amount of venture capitalist investment totaled US$14.7 billion, which is more than the total investment in 2020 (US$14.6 billion), as well as the total investment in 2019 (US$7.7 billion). This could be a good thing for patients and consumers, as the rise in investments could lead to more innovations in the virtual healthcare industry as companies in this space continue to look for ways to find a sustainable competitive advantage.
While North America took the largest market share in the Telehealth industry in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asia Pacific market is projected to have the highest growth by 2021 as it addresses the prevalence of chronic diseases and the lack of hospital space.
Telehealth is here to stay and has the potential to open the door for major transformations in the healthcare industry. McKinsey and Company also report that we can anticipate more innovations around virtual longitudinal care, both primary and specialty. There will also be a rise in technologies that would enable remote patient monitoring and self-diagnostics. Lastly, we can also see more experimentations on the hybrid approach to healthcare, with both online and offline models, that would help achieve healthcare’s triple aim.