Telemedicine is here to stay. The year 2020 was a transformative period for medicare and Telehealth services. Every area of health care was affected by the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic, promoting a radical change in the landscape. Telehealth and telemedicine increased sharply since the first week of the pandemic— nonetheless, virtual visits have declined since that initial outburst, but are still up significantly higher than in the last couple of years. Consumer trends have changed and are expected to remain on the upswing — higher investment in platforms, with even higher overall utilization by the industry and individual physicians.
According to the CDC, Telehealth visits skyrocketed to more than 154% in 2020 compared to the previous year. 46% of patients nowadays say they prefer Telehealth visits. More than 48% of physicians now state that they are treating a higher volume of patients than before the pandemic via Telehealth services.
Telehealth or telemedicine is the distribution of medical-related services via technologies — either through telecommunications or electronic information. The platform allows greater access to clinical care, advice, reminders, intervention, remote admission, and education.
Telehealth isn’t something new — just a practice that has seen widespread adoption, partly due to today’s current tech, in the past couple of years. The story of Telehealth is rooted not in the development of technology, which was just a facilitator, but in the evolution of society as a whole. Humans have long relayed all manner of information through optical telegraphy, torches, wireless transmission, electroscope, and letters. Since mankind could communicate there have been Telehealth or remote medicine services.
Traditional medicine relies heavily on in-person care, it’s one of the staples of it. Nonetheless, since the Roman and pre-Hippocratic periods there has been a need to provide remote care — a need that arose from the desire to spread medicine to even the most far-flung regions of the world. The elderly, the infirm, or simply the remote could not visit medical representatives in temples to get advice and diagnosis, so systems were implemented to convey information across great swaths of land. In Africa, for example, villagers would use smoke signals to warn neighbors of disease outbreaks or ask for help in a medical crisis — they were primitive, but highly effective Telehealth services.
Nevertheless, the inception point of what we now identify as Telehealth occurred in the latter half of the 20th century. Doctors and patients began to interact through the telephone and radio. The earliest Telehealth encounter in history can be traced to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 when he used his newest invention – the telephone – to call up his assistant Mr. Watson after he spilled acid on his trousers. 50 years later, companies were heavily investing in Telehealth services, so much so that the inventor Hugo Gernsback wrote an article for the magazine Science and Invention in which he predicted the widespread usage of the medium.
Telehealth epochs of maturation normally came hand in hand with a calamity. Telegraphs became the norm during the Civil War because battalions needed to deliver to HQ mortality lists and ask for supplies for medical care. During the Arminian genocide, the telephone was implemented as a secure way of passing medical information because doctors were prohibited from entering Armenia during Turkey’s occupation.
The tipping point for the practice came about in 1985. NASA, amidst the devastation of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, provided an AT-S 3 satellite to enable medical care communication between the response teams. It was the moment when the world started to see the advantages of Telehealth and the medical industry began to invest heavily in it.
It was thanks to these advances, that most governments actions managed to persevere during the coronavirus outbreak of 2020. The pandemic put things into motion and an industry that had some advances, but was reluctant to change – medicine – had no other choice but to adapt and embrace the digital transformation.
In response to the pandemic, HIPAA rules were waived to expand how doctors can practice and who they can treat. Overnight, the market opened up to many physicians and it created a huge opportunity to expand their trade. Now doctors can reach unexpected markets or otherwise hard-to-reach locales.
Telemedicine provides a holistic platform, a well-rounded all-encompassing framework for patient/doctor relationships. It removes barriers while opening up new lines of communication. Patients, 93% of them, say they value the support system Telehealth services give them — the benefit it grants them to follow a wellness regimen, manage prescriptions, stay linked to a physician in case of a crisis, etc.
Telehealth allows patients to reach their doctors without wasting any time right from their mobile devices and the comfort of their home or job.
Patients can comply with physician’s orders or commit to follow-ups without having to take time off work.
The pandemic super-charged Telehealth and created a booming market that is expected to reach $185.6 billion by 2026. Investors poured over $9,4 billion into digital startups in the third quarter of 2020 — that’s a 48% increase from 2019. Non- healthcare companies, like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are heavily investing in the field. Most creating wearables and launching AI initiatives for health.
By 2025, experts are already claiming that the word “Telehealth” will become obsolete. It will just be “health”. There won’t be a distinction between “virtual care” and “care”. The future of medicine IS Telehealth.