In a world that is driven by digital technology, health services cannot remain far behind. Virtual health consultations, or telehealth, is a fast-growing sector that has made world-class health services accessible to many without requiring in-person visits.
The telehealth industry is evolving every day with new additions to services. Patients as well as healthcare providers are becoming increasingly aware of the upside of remote consultation. This growing awareness has also driven an increase in demand for telehealth services globally.
The year 2020 saw tremendous growth in the telehealth industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The need for social distancing and concerns over keeping the vulnerable population safe prompted people to make better use of telehealth services.
This article will discuss some ongoing and upcoming trends in the industry. Here are some important insights into the telehealth industry, both in the US and globally.
The telehealth market size globally had a value of 61.40 billion USD in 2019. By 2027, this figure is expected to rise to 559.52 billion USD. Going by these figures, the Compound Annual Growth Rate comes to around 25.2% during the said period. That is commendable growth for any industry.
The advancements in information technology and communications can be credited for this revolution in the healthcare industry. Telehealth depends entirely on IT and communication technology to cater to the needs of patients, overcoming the barriers of distance and making healthcare accessible to all.
The adoption of telehealth services has moved on from areas like telemedicine and has penetrated into the fields of cardiology, radiology, psychiatric consultations, and more.
The United States is currently leading in the global telehealth market according to reports. As of 2016, nearly 67% of US hospitals were in the telehealth business, connected remotely to both doctors and patients, offering online consultations through video and other modes of communication. This number is only expected to increase over the years as communication technology has improved leaps and bounds.
Between 2020 and 2025, the telehealth industry in the US is expected to grow at a CAGR of 31.2%. That is just within a span of 5 years. One of the major reasons driving this growth and widespread adoption of telehealth is the telemedicine legislation that has been approved by the state. In the past two years, that is between 2019 and 2020, the US telehealth market has seen a growth of nearly 80%. This growth can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and also goes on to show how telemedicine is helping patients during exceptional times like these.
The United States has seen increased adoption of telehealth services both from the service providers’ end as well as the patients’. Over the past 10 years, nearly 74% of the population in the US has started using telehealth services. The adoption of telemedicine is far more widespread in areas where specialists and primary healthcare services are not easily available.
Almost 43.5% of the people availing telehealth services in the US are from such areas.
Telehealth services have played a very vital role during the Covid-19 outbreak globally in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic was a challenging time for everyone, including healthcare workers and patients. While it was crucial to maintain social distancing and minimize contact to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, providing healthcare to those in need was also unavoidable. But while the healthcare industry, in general, was overburdened by the pandemic, having to put elective treatments on hold, it also opened new avenues for everyone through digital platforms.
Telehealth has been a very useful tool during the Covid-19 pandemic in providing remote consultation and health monitoring services. The World Health Organization (WHO) itself acknowledged the help that telemedicine has offered during the peak of the pandemic in 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), telehealth visits increased by 154% during March 2020 as compared to 2019.
In the US, the Health and Human Services has set new guidelines to include telehealth services in mainstream healthcare. Many healthcare companies have taken a proactive approach towards virtual healthcare during the pandemic and adopted different software applications to help provide quality remote services to patients.
Telehealth services have proven to be a boon during the Covid-19 pandemic situation. It has protected both patients and healthcare professionals from exposure to the virus along with ensuring that primary healthcare is not affected by these challenging situations.
Apart from the need to consult with physicians remotely during the pandemic, there are several other factors that drive the growth of the telehealth industry. But alongside these supporting factors, there are certain factors that are also hindering its growth.
Here is a look at some of the driving and impeding factors in the growth of telehealth, both globally and in the United States.
Government initiatives to promote the adoption of telehealth
Noticing the revolution that telehealth services can bring in today’s highly connected world, many governments worldwide have extended their support to help with the adoption of digital healthcare. New guidelines have been established to help healthcare providers offer telehealth services extensively. Funding and aid have also been provided by several government agencies to support the initiatives. The Federal Communications Commission, for instance, provided 200 million USD in funding to help healthcare providers offer connected services to patients under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
Government initiatives like these have been a driving force for healthcare service providers to take up telehealth more actively and have resulted in a massive growth of the industry.
There are two very obvious but very crucial factors that have accelerated the growth of the telehealth industry, not just in the US but the world over. The first reason is the penetration of the internet into remote areas and its increasing usage globally. The second reason is the rising cases of chronic disease among people, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and more. People suffering from chronic diseases require doctor’s consultation quite often or even routinely in some cases. These lead people to look for affordable healthcare that is accessible from anywhere.
These needs surfacing in the past few decades have not only resulted in the growth of the telehealth market. They have also prompted researchers to come up with innovative technology to improve these services further.
Poor internet and technological infrastructure acting as a barrier to widespread adoption
The biggest hurdle in the path of the growth of telehealth services is the lack of infrastructure in many areas. In areas where internet connectivity is poor, the adoption of telehealth services cannot be expected to be as widespread as in the urban areas of developed countries like the US. With little access to the internet, consumer awareness in these regions is also bound to be limited. The telehealth industry has to find ways of tackling these challenges and increasing awareness to be able to take their services to the masses.
Many surveys and studies have been conducted over the past year to understand the upcoming trends of the telehealth industry. Here are some of the insights that researchers and industry experts have arrived at from these studies.
In a survey of 2,300 health leaders, conducted by Definitive Healthcare, 54.9% of the respondents said that telehealth has the potential to stay. The respondents strongly believed that telehealth has the highest staying power for patients with chronic diseases that need routine healthcare.
Respondents in the same survey said that telehealth consultations in the field of mental and behavioral health are likely to remain an important tool. Telehealth visits in these areas have been a convenient mode of communication for both patients and therapists during the Covid-19 lockdowns and this trend should continue further.
It is important for physicians to be able to access patients’ health records easily during consultations. In telehealth consultations, doctors need to be able to access and input patients’ health records conveniently on a single platform. This gives rise to the need for Electronic Health Records (EHR) embedded systems. Software developers are working on platforms that integrate the capabilities of both telehealth services and EHR systems.
With the added convenience of remote consultations, telehealth services also bring along certain risks. The lingering threat to data security on telehealth platforms is a growing concern for both healthcare providers and patients alike. Healthcare service providers have to ensure that all personal health records are stored securely. Encryption of files, limited access to data, and compliance to cybersecurity standards will be essential.
The importance of remote healthcare will only be increasing in the future. The demand for efficient telehealth services is something that all healthcare providers need to be prepared for, particularly in this post-Covid-19 world. Healthcare providers will need to increase patients’ awareness of the telemedicine services they offer and how they can make the best use of these services. Telehealth is undergoing a massive revolution and both healthcare professionals, and patients, need to get the maximum benefit out of it.