Telemedicine is a revolutionary healthcare service that allows health care providers to care for patients using digital technologies for phone and video chat appointments. While the adoption of telemedicine has increased in recent years, it has not yet been fully adopted by all healthcare payers, providers and patients.
As of October 2019, only 39% of US physicians utilized telemedicine technologies for their practice. However, in the wake of Covid-19, the need for virtual solutions to connect physicians with their patients has increased faster than many were prepared for.
Government response to Covid-19
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the CDC has urged healthcare providers to communicate with patients virtually whenever possible. To help aid this, several federal health agencies have taken steps to help facilitate telemedicine adoption.
The US government has also expanded telehealth consultations to nearly 62 million Medicare beneficiaries. The Office of Civil Rights (ORC) has also temporarily lifted telehealth restrictions, including removing the penalty for HIPAA violations for providers utilizing telehealth during the pandemic. Further, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) has allowed providers to reduce or waive deductibles for telehealth visits.
The actions taken by these federal agencies are meant to minimize health risks for all citizens and remove previous barriers to make telehealth adoption as easy as possible for both providers and consumers. The impact of these changes on adoption are still unfolding, but it should come as no surprise that current data shows rapidly increasing rates of telemedicine appointments.
Patients have several options when it comes to connecting with a physician over the phone. For instance, telehealth leaders such as Teledoc, Amwell and Doctor On Demand connect patients directly to a doctor qualified to treat their condition. Conversely, patients may schedule an appointment with their regular physician through apps and services specific to their healthcare provider. Both telehealth technology providers and private telemedicine applications have experienced increased activity in the wake of Covid-19.
Recent data shared from Amwell, a telehealth technology provider who processed tens of thousands of telehealth visits a day pre coronavirus, saw a 490% increase in urgent care visits the last week of March.
The largest virtual care provider in the US, Teledoc, is now reporting 100K+ appointments weekly while the Cleveland Clinic logged 60k+ telemedicine visits in March (of which ~75% pertained to patients worried they had COVID-19). To put the rapid increase into perspective, the Cleveland Clinic health system was averaging closer to 3,400 virtual visits a month pre-coronavirus.
Telemedicine is an invaluable tool, especially during this time of social distancing. Unfortunately, it is only effective if patients are able to access and maintain their current level of care. In a recent study by Fingerpaint, 53% of healthcare professionals were concerned their patients did not have to access telemedicine services, and 58% were concerned about maintaining their patients' long-term care via telehealth. This study also found that the majority (59%) of HCPs are concerned Covid-19 will prevent their practices from providing the level of care established pre-pandemic for at least the next two months.
To help combat some of these concerns, many pharmaceutical brands have seized the opportunity to advocate and help educate consumers and healthcare professionals alike. Transitioning from promotional to informative messaging can solidify the relationships between pharmaceutical sales representatives and their healthcare counterparts. Fingerpaint’s Michelle Petroff explains this need, stating, “HCPs are looking for that information from any source they can get it. They are welcoming it from pharma and open to hearing from sales reps. It’s all about having the right tone and content.”
While recent efforts to eliminate barriers and facilitate ease of access for telemedicine services are a response to Covid-19, these changes are likely to have a lasting impact on the healthcare industry and telehealthcare services.
Recent data on remote treatments introduced to maintain social distancing suggests that some telehealth services for certain specialties may continue to be prominent even after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Psychiatry and Neurology in particular have seen high adoption rates for remote treatments during the pandemic that could be maintained longer term.
Regardless of Covid-19, healthcare providers should prepare for this focus on telemedicine to continue and possibly increase in the months to come.
Ashlee Czapla, brand manager, Coegi