The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in more questions than answers in the beginning. Perhaps one of the most important of all is, “With the lockdowns, how can people access healthcare?” It turns out the answer has already been around for some time, although it is underutilized: telemedicine.
Within a year, the demand for telemedicine ballooned. According to a Frost & Sullivan study, its compound annual growth rate could reach 38.2% until 2025.
Meanwhile, the Business Research Company revealed that the market could increase by 40% to 2023. By the end of the forecast period, the value would have already been $194 billion—over $50 billion more than in 2019.
The growth seems unprecedented that healthcare experts believe that there’s no turning back. But will this be beneficial for the industry in the long-term? Reports and studies suggest yes.
- It Could Ease ER Overcrowding
First, the good news: The ER’s mortality rates already declined by nearly 50% from 1997 to 2011. Most of those who didn’t make it were older people and those likely to die from myocardial infarction.
However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially in waiting times. According to Harvard Business Review, on average, Americans wait an hour and a half to get treatment.
A person who suffers from sudden cardiac arrest, for example, is likely to develop brain injury or long-term permanent damage the longer the organ becomes deprived of oxygen.
If that isn’t enough, a survey showed that between 2000 and 2015, the number of ER visits in the country soared by over 25%. It means a healthcare facility could end up trying to save almost 140 million a year.
Telemedicine could help ease the overcrowding in many ways:
- Triage becomes more efficient. The healthcare facility can check the patient first, even before they arrive at the hospital. In some cases, they may need only urgent care, or the illness may not be dire enough that medications can alleviate the symptoms or treat them.
- Non-emergency patients can still get help even from healthcare providers who may not be part of the hospital or currently at home.
- Newer tools like patient engagement solutions promote a more pleasurable experience for healthcare providers and the ones they’re taking care of. Not only can they access telemedicine, but they can also perform other essential tasks. These include processing their billing, getting notifications from their doctors, or requesting prescriptions without proceeding to the hospital.
- Telemedicine Could Serve Remote or Rural Communities
While the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t spare any county in the United States, it actually hit the hardest on those in rural areas. In a 2020 study in the Journal of Rural Health, mortality was the highest among counties in rural regions at 70.3%. COVID-19 deaths were lower in micropolitan counties and even much lower than those in metropolitan places.
Experts blame the high fatality rate on many factors. For instance, people living in rural areas are more likely poor or have a low-income job. It means they may be either uninsured or underinsured. They also don’t have the means to pay for out-of-pocket costs.
They may also be older or are unhealthy. In 2018 CDC data, the obesity rate in rural America reached 34.2% compared to 28.7% for those living in urban areas. However, the likeliest contributor is poor access to healthcare. These places have fewer doctors and healthcare personnel, let alone facilities.
Thus, Florida Atlantic University believed that rural hospitals could benefit more from telemedicine than in major cities or counties. This is especially true at the height of a pandemic where a surge of patients may need immediate medical help.
- Rural patients can now access specialists, such as cardiologists, oncologists, and internists, more frequently.
- Rural healthcare providers can convene, discuss, or collaborate with other physicians, not only those in the United States but around the world.
- Patients may feel more comfortable to discuss their illnesses or seek consultations as people living in rural areas value privacy and anonymity more. They may even be more encouraged to undergo wellness checkups, helping unburden an already-stressed healthcare system.
- Show Rates Could Increase
Recent studies suggest that as many as 42% of patients skip their appointments. While the reasons can vary, the effects can be harmful to both the individual and the healthcare provider. The former prevents themselves from getting appropriate help, while the hospital loses possible revenues and even clients.
Telemedicine may change that. In 2020, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology shared that show rates among asthma children rose by as much as 62% because of the platform.
In other words, telemedicine can be a useful tool to encourage compliance and avoid worse problems that can be life-threatening.
Despite being around for years, healthcare providers still have a long way to go in improving telemedicine. But there’s no doubt its potential is massive and worth exploiting.