Driven by digital transformation, virtual health visits are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional in-clinic care. Telehealth visits increased 33% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
With growing awareness among patients, providers, and health insurance companies — combined with the need to address COVID-19 social distancing concerns and protecting vulnerable populations — we will likely see demand for telehealth programs continue to increase in 2021 and beyond. The market is anticipated to reach $191.7 billion by 2025.
Telehealth is not only important to the professional corporations, PLLCs, and PLLPs 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 2021.
1. Continued increase in consumer demand for telehealth coverage
Once viewed by the healthcare insurance industry as a 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, 2021 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.
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 COVID-19 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 easy access to quality healthcare.
3. Further reduction of state barriers
Actions last year by Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have encouraged greater access to telehealth services. As a result, states have implemented and are continuing to refine telehealth rules and requirements.
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.
Demand from patients is driving the growth of telehealth. As providers look to expand or improve their telehealth programs, expect a new focus on patient expectations and experience.
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 in 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
Any telemedicine strategy should consider cybersecurity. The healthcare sector is one of the most lucrative targets for cybercriminals due to the large amount of sensitive patient data collected and stored. This year will see a significant focus on how that information is protected in the age of digital medical appointments.
Greater responsibility will be placed 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. The future for telemedicine looks bright
In the past year, awareness and utilization of telemedicine have accelerated out of necessity. The trend looks likely to continue with digital appointments and health tracking becoming the “new normal” for the healthcare industry.