The Rise of Telehealth

At this point, it can be hard to remember a time before COVID-19. Our perceptions have shifted, our priorities have changed, and companies of all sizes, across various industries, have had to adapt and innovate to meet the world’s evolving needs. While fleeting trends like QR-code menus have come and gone, others have stuck around, paving the way for a digital future focused on convenience and accessibility.

Nowhere is this more evident than in telehealth, a digital healthcare practice that, while existing pre-pandemic, has only recently exploded in popularity. So, in this article, we will take some time to highlight telehealth — what it is, how it’s grown, and how it is shaping the ways we will interact with medicine for years to come.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, is a resource used by businesses and healthcare providers to deliver remote, online, and digital services to their patients. It offers providers a convenient way of delivering essential services and gives patients a convenient way of receiving the care they need. Whether it’s psychiatric, urgent, or consultative in nature, telehealth has widely been recognized as an excellent alternative to traditional, non-emergent healthcare methods for individuals whose schedules and concerns may be better suited to remote means of care.

Telehealth Before COVID-19

Telehealth, however, hasn’t always been a popular option. For over a decade, many in healthcare have considered telemedicine the next big thing in the industry, but actual adoption of telehealth evaluation and management services remained low for years. Operating under the assumption that tech-savvy millennials, given the option, would naturally prefer the convenience of a digital alternative to traditional office visits, billions were invested into developing the technologies that would make telehealth more accessible. However, that wave of enthusiasm wasn’t enough, and telemedicine, before the emergence of COVID-19, struggled to gain traction in mainstream markets. Multiple factors contributed to this, namely awareness, cost, and concern over the quality of available care, and telehealth seemed destined to remain a novel alternative to traditional services when no other option was available.

A 2017 study sponsored by Avizia, a prominent telehealth provider, revealed that a staggering 82% of Americans had yet to utilize telemedicine services, despite the overwhelmingly positive response from the individuals who had. Additionally, these services were mainly being used by those in primarily rural areas with limited access to conventional options, meaning telemedicine, while valuable, was presenting as a niche service for highly specific markets.

Telehealth After COVID-19

That all changed, though, in 2020. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, figuring out how to safely provide healthcare services to patients without compromising quality was a significant concern for healthcare practices. And as businesses adopted more remote work standards, telemedicine found its place. Early in the pandemic, telehealth services emerged as an indispensable tool for safe, at-home healthcare monitoring and consultation services. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company insights, in April 2020, telehealth utilization for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than it had been two months prior, and while that staggering spike dulled somewhat over time, a year later, telehealth utilization remained 38 times higher than it had been pre-pandemic.

This happened for several reasons. Regulatory changes played a significant role in paving the way for telehealth’s success. Policies were enacted to support its adoption, and many of the barriers that made it more difficult to utilize were lifted during the pandemic. At the same time, increased public awareness of telehealth benefits, coupled with the undeniable necessity for accessible healthcare services fueled an already rapid uptake. Telehealth quickly became a highly valued alternative to traditional in-person doctor’s visits for patients and healthcare providers alike.

For patients, the reassurance of accessible quality care whenever necessary helped offer peace of mind during uncertain times. And healthcare providers could rest easy knowing that their services wouldn’t suffer, allowing them to tend to their patients’ health and well-being more conveniently than ever before. The convergence of technology and medicine proved to be a winning combination that helped to empower healthcare professionals to expand their reach and deliver care remotely without compromising on quality.

Telehealth in 2023

Despite the investment in telehealth services over the last decade and the adoption of telemedicine since COVID-19, the U.S. still isn’t optimized for consistent, widespread use. The lack of broadband access in areas that need it and a cultural aversion to supplementing face-to-face interaction with full-time digital alternatives,  have caused the telehealth revolution to gradually subside. And while telehealth usage is still significantly higher than it was pre-pandemic, it isn’t being utilized to nearly the same extent as it was in 2020.

The consensus? Telehealth usage will continue to grow, but more slowly than before. Provided government regulations support virtual care efforts and accessible internet options become more readily available, the remaining hurdle for telehealth growth will lie in cultural awareness. As an agency, we at Infinity Marketing have seen that struggle firsthand, but by implementing effective strategies and intentional campaign efforts, telehealth services have tremendous potential to achieve successful long-term acceptance.

As awareness continues to build, broadband infrastructure continues to improve, and our culture more readily adopts virtual care services, telehealth, and other virtual care services will undoubtedly shift from a COVID trend to a cultural mainstay — just as hybrid and remote work opportunities have become an accepted and encouraged norm.

Conclusion

COVID-19 played a pivotal role in propelling telehealth from a niche alternative to a vital component of healthcare. Over the years, the undeniable value of telehealth has gained  widespread recognition, and while its initial surge in popularity has subsided since COVID, telehealth services continue to grow and likely will continue to do so. As broadband infrastructure improves, government regulations support it, and cultural acceptance increases, telehealth will remain a vital asset in our post-pandemic world. Just as hybrid work was normalized, telehealth will likely be regarded, long term, as a beneficial healthcare option that actively prioritizes accessibility, and  empowers patients and healthcare providers alike to adapt and respond to the evolving needs of our society.

 

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