Driven by digital transformation, virtual health visits are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional in-clinic care. Today, almost 80% of hospitals offer some form of telehealth service.
With growing awareness among patients, providers, and health insurance companies — combined with the need to address COVID-19 social distancing concerns and protect vulnerable populations — we will likely see demand for telehealth programs continue to increase in 2020 and beyond.
Telehealth is not only important to the professional corporations (LLCs, and LLPs that provide telehealth services). It also encompasses a wider supply chain in critical areas such as cybersecurity, healthcare device manufacturing, and other businesses that facilitate the use of telehealth.
Here are six telehealth trends to keep an eye on in 2020.
1. Greater consumer demand for telehealth coverage/reimbursement
Once viewed by the healthcare insurance industry as a by-necessity-only alternative to in-person visits, many payers now view telehealth as a cost-effective first line of treatment for non-urgent ailments and follow-up appointments.
As a result, 2020 will see health plan companies collaborating with in-network providers to broaden access to telehealth. Expect to see in-network providers enroll in telehealth services as providers ramp up their investments in the technology needed to support video consultations.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare and Medicaid telehealth insurance regulations are also loosening to promote access to telehealth.
However, reimbursement for telehealth visits continues to vary depending on the provider’s location, facility type, and treatment provided.
2. More services, wider reach
The current pandemic is bringing about rapid changes in society and many, like telehealth, will continue beyond the crisis and gain mainstream adoption. As reimbursement programs expand, providers will be incented to explore new ways to use telehealth to care for more complex medical conditions (such as diabetes), seniors over 65 years, and those who traditionally lack access to quality healthcare.
3. Further reduction of state barriers
Recent actions by Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are also encouraging greater access to telehealth services. As a result, several states are implementing new telehealth rules and requirements, with others likely to follow.
Many states have temporarily relaxed licensure requirements or issued expedited licenses for out-of-state physicians. It remains to be seen if these changes will remain beyond COVID-19.
However, as lawmakers look to decrease barriers to telehealth, the industry can expect to see detailed standards for the provision of telehealth and ongoing amendments to alleviate the uncertainty of current state laws.
4. Growth of telehealth adjacent industries
As demand for telehealth grows, so will the peripherals and devices needed to support it. Examples such as telehealth platforms, in-home monitoring, etc. will also become big business.
Going beyond one-on-one virtual consultations between doctors and patients, telehealth is expanding to direct-to-consumer (DTC) models such as home delivery of prescriptions and home-use medical devices. Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are already being used to help manage and track chronic conditions. As they prove their value, these DTC models are sure to become more prevalent.
5. Greater AI integration
Artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining traction in all aspects of our lives. Could the future see AI being used by doctors to devise care plans based on multiple data points and projections? Could AI reduce the potential for error inpatient care? What about greater efficiencies? AI can streamline patient intake through chatbots, upfront screening questionnaires, and other tools, reducing online waiting queues and helping physicians triage patients more effectively.
6. Need for increased cyber/data due diligence
As the use of telemedicine expands, new and familiar risks will arise. The healthcare industry is already a lucrative target for cyber criminals and threat actors.
Telehealth exacerbates these risks and places greater responsibility on healthcare providers to ensure third-party teleconferencing platforms are secure, and that patient data — including data in-transit — is protected.
Telehealth solutions must meet stringent federal and international compliance standards and privacy regulations to protect against potential HIPAA violations, data breaches, and reputational damage.
Learn more about how states are addressing licensing of out-of-state telehealth providers.