Why telemedicine will largely dictate the future of healthcare.
Healthcare, as we know it, is changing. In real time, we’re watching the industry shift from in-person care to virtual delivery. Technology and adoption have collided, at the onslaught of a pandemic, no less. These conditions have illuminated the many substantial benefits of telemedicine for patients and physicians alike — and exposed a massive opportunity in previously untapped revenue streams.
COVID-19 forced the medical community into survival mode during the first half of the year. Many practices and healthcare facilities had to adapt fast, cobbling together a telemedicine offering that would help them stay agile and “keep the lights on,” with little thought toward the future. But the second half of 2020 will be geared toward growth: building loyalty and even attracting new patients as the nation emerges on the other side of this pandemic.
Though it may be tempting to brush off telemedicine as a stopgap measure during this unprecedented healthcare emergency, new research shows that virtual care will outlast the pandemic itself. Doctor.com surveyed more than 1,800 patients to examine their sentiments around the technology as well as how they envision telemedicine fitting into their lives moving forward. One thing was resoundingly clear: Telemedicine isn’t simply a temporary solution used during COVID-19, and it will largely dictate the future of healthcare.
1. Patients are fully primed for the virtual revolution.
Healthcare has, historically, been reluctant to change. In fact, consumer-facing industries like retail and travel have proven themselves to be lightyears ahead of the digital curve. But COVID-19 put things into motion, and momentum surrounding telemedicine quickly snowballed from there. As it turns out, patients were ready to embrace this digital transformation from the get-go.
In the early months of COVID-19’s rapid spread across the US, 71% of patients had considered telemedicine while half had already gone through with a virtual appointment. But telemedicine was on the rise long before a pandemic pushed it into the limelight, and projections for the future are bright. Patient adoption at the beginning of 2020 was up 33% over the previous year, while funding has been booming and the market is expected to reach $185.6 billion by 2026.
People who have been paying attention likely won’t be surprised by this takeaway. As patients have demonstrated increased comfort levels with technology, the journey to care has only grown only more digital in direct correlation with their tech savvy. In recent history, we’ve watched online resources eclipse word-of-mouth referrals, online appointment booking surpass the traditional phone call, and communication preferences generally shift toward digital methods. Patients are continuing on this trend with telemedicine adoption, where seeking a virtual solution precedes their decision to walk through your doors.
2. Telemedicine is here to stay.
With patients fully embracing the virtual era, their preference and adoption of telemedicine will spur action within the industry — and necessarily so. Telemedicine isn’t going anywhere: 83% of patients expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic resolves.
In many ways, telemedicine mirrors today’s consumer experience: easy, immediate access to physicians, right from their smartphones — call it the “Uberization” of healthcare. Telemedicine saves patients over 100 minutesof their time compared to an in-person visit, and they can conduct each appointment in the comfort of their own home. When patients were asked what would encourage them to book a telemedicine appointment, convenience factors, including easy-to-use technology (69%), communication (57%), online scheduling capabilities (47%), and immediate appointment availability (47%), are largely driving adoption. Instead of wasting half of a day traveling to an appointment and waiting to be seen by a physician, a patient just needs to hop on a 10-minute before deciding on next steps or if a more extensive in-person appointment is warranted.
3. Virtual appointments let you reach new or untapped markets.
In response to COVID-19, HIPAA rules were waived to expand how physicians can practice — and, in some cases, whom they are able to treat. This meant that people who were previously unavailable quickly became viable new patient opportunities. For their part, patients are keeping an open mind: More than half would use telemedicine to see a new doctor while, predictably, nearly 75% would use it to see a physician with whom they have a relationship. That said, patients require substantial social proof before choosing a new physician: Around 40% would either need to have a personal referral or read great reviews about a physician online before they would seek virtual care with someone new.
This flexibility, coupled with patients’ willingness to use telemedicine in the first place, clears a path for physicians to look outside of their base and reach new patients in unexpected locales or otherwise harder-to-reach markets. Since telemedicine tends to be more efficient from start to finish than in-person appointments, time-starved patients can also be selective and “test-drive” physicians virtually — and not just default to their nearest option.
4. Telemedicine has significant long-term effects on the health and wellbeing of your patients.
For physicians, perhaps telemedicine’s most promising implication relates to patient adherence.
Patient compliancehas always been a major headache for physicians, but telemedicine provides a holistic framework for the longer-lasting health of our communities. It removes barriers to care while, simultaneously, opening communication channels and strengthening the connection between physician and patient, improving their access to care. Patients seem to recognize how telemedicine can help them take care of themselves: 93% report that they would use telemedicine to manage prescriptions, and 91% say that telemedicine would help them stick to appointments, manage prescriptions and refills, and follow wellness regimens as dictated by their doctor.
Telemedicine isn’t pandemic-induced hype — or a buzzword. Research indicates that, ready or not, it will have an unmistakable impact on the future of healthcare delivery. If you haven’t implemented a solution by now, or if you “panic bought” the wrong program in order to weather the COVID storm, you may feel like you’re already behind. But it’s not too late to capitalize on the surge of telemedicine, as it will become a necessary component of your practice long after the pandemic ends. Now is the time to decide what kind of solution fits your practice’s or health system’s needs as well as what technology you can reasonably expect patients to use, and start creating workflows for your new and improved hybrid office.
Andrei Zimiles is the cofounder and CEO of Doctor.com. As CEO, Andrei guides strategy and oversees daily operations. He has helmed the company from inception and is committed to helping healthcare organizations deliver a better customer experience at every step of the patient journey. Doctor.com empowers physicians and hospitals to engage patients at key digital touchpoints through award-winning physician directories, web-wide reputation management, seamless online scheduling, and now best-in-class telemedicine — all from one unified platform.