COVID-19 has catapulted medicine into a new, virtual world. Although telemedicine has been around for years, it has quickly transitioned from a “nice-to-have” to a necessity. Today, physicians are relying on telemedicine to connect with their patients, provide consultation, and properly diagnose and triage patient ailments. But what happens when the pandemic comes to an end? Is telemedicine a flash in the proverbial healthcare pan or is it here to stay?
From my own experience as a practicing physician, I see five primary reasons why telemedicine will continue to gain adoption among my colleagues and become a staple of modern-day patient care.
- Patient Demand: It has become clear that, when given the option, patients often prefer virtual visits with their doctors. It’s convenient and delivers quicker access to their care provider. In fact, according to a study by The American Journal of Managed Care, telemedicine, by a clear margin, has fast become patients’ preferred approach when compared to a traditional office visit. As doctors look for ways to refine and improve the patient experience, telemedicine will represent a critical part of the mix to keep aligned with this growing trend and patient preference.
- Convenience and Flexibility: There’s no question that telemedicine is highly convenient for doctors and patients alike. It affords physicians the flexibility to more effectively manage their patient schedule and requires a smaller time commitment from patients since they can attend the appointment from home. For patients, telemedicine eliminates wasted time traveling to and from the Doctor’s office. And it allows doctors to spend more time diagnosing and treating patients. Moreover, telehealth allows physicians to maximize their time and focus on more office visits in a day without sacrificing the quality of care.
- Technology Continues to Improve: The pace of innovation in healthcare is quickening and the pandemic is only accelerating this trend. As digital health companies continue to put their efforts towards improving their tools and offerings, we can expect to see further advances in virtual care products. With innovative features and increased functionality that incorporate physician feedback, these tools will increasingly be a viable option for more types of healthcare appointments long after the pandemic subsides.
- Reimbursement and Regulation: While the billing process for telemedicine remains somewhat uncertain for some providers, chances are that insurance companies will be forced to adapt to the growing demand for these appointments and reimburse accordingly. Healthcare organizations will likely begin establishing permanent telemedicine services for patients who reside in rural areas or who simply prefer to receive virtual care. Telemedicine benefits have already been expanded beyond COVID-19 for Medicare beneficiaries, so the bulk of other insurance companies are likely to follow suit.
- Health Equity: Access to healthcare is not evenly distributed across the United States For those in rural and underserved communities the nearest clinic may be hours away. Prior to the pandemic, telemedicine technology required patients to have access to a high-speed internet connection. Unfortunately, significant disparities still exist in broadband Internet access based on age, income, education, and race. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven innovation in telemedicine platforms and patients today can now see their doctor with only a smartphone; Thankfully, since most Black, Hispanic and underserved Americans own one, allowing this new capabili
We are already seeing the benefits of telemedicine for patients and doctors, and that alone is helping shape the future of medical care delivery. The question isn't if telemedicine is here to stay but rather how the technology will continue to evolve and how ubiquitous it will become across the medical community.
About the Author
Peter Alperin, MD, is vice president at Doximity, the professional medical network with more than 70 percent of all U.S. physicians as members. He is also a staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.