2020 has brought tremendous growth to the world of telemedicine.  The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted telemedicine from an emerging and growing part of modern medicine to what is becoming a cornerstone of medical care in these times.  Changes are happening in telemedicine on all fronts as the demand for reliable access to medical care in a safe and socially distant format has become critical.

 

Digital First Care Model

A digital-first care model means looking to telehealth interactions first.  This model would have the practice of telemedicine as the default option. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic sent demand for telehealth services into overdrive there was a growing push in some factions to advocate for a digital-first model of care in medicine.  In many instances, the use of telehealth services can take away the need for in-person appointments altogether.  Insurance companies, care providers, and clinical administrators are beginning to come together to encourage virtual care over in-person care when possible.

 

Shifting Requirements Concerning Originating Sites

 

In the past to cover telehealth services, medicare required approved “originating sites” to be used by patients and providers.  Originating sites were usually in a doctor’s office or medical facility.  They had to be in a preapproved location, usually a rural or sparsely populated place inadequately served by local medical facilities.  Emergency measures approved during the pandemic lifted many of these requirements temporarily.  This was to provide patients and care providers a way to make sure people had access to the medical care they needed.  Many parts of the country have been through temporary stay at home orders in their community.  Others have been required to self-quarantine after contact with the virus.  Even Americans who have not been required to stay at home are often choosing to do so.  Telemedicine allows patients continued access to medical care when they need it.

 

 

Increased Demand For Telemedicine

The demand for Telehealth service is projected to grow by as much as 65% according to a report by Frost and Sullivan.  At first, many people put off scheduled trips to the doctor or visits to address medical concerns as staying home meant staying safe.  As it became clear that the COVID-19 virus would be around for a long time many health concerns could not continue to be put off.  At the same time a desire for life to go on as normally as possible meant people began to look for ways to safely continue even routine medical care.  This explosion in demand for virtual medical care may have been driven by the pandemic, but many feel it may become the new normal.

 

Increased Access to Telemedicine

Emergency measures to make health care available to Americans during the global pandemic have been taken.  These measures have removed some of the barriers patients used to experience in accessing telemedicine.  More insurance plans are now covering telemedicine care at the same rate as in-person care.  When there is no cost barrier to telemedicine both providers and patients are happier to use it. Patients and providers also have more freedom to access telemedicine through personal mobile devices.  With this freedom, telemedicine is even more convenient and has become accessible anywhere.  As healthcare providers begin to offer more telemedicine appointments patients find it easier to receive care and demand increases.  As demand increases healthcare providers are encouraged to expand the telehealthcare they offer.

 

Growing Trust in Telemedicine

Trust in telemedicine has grown slowly. Under normal circumstances, many people might have been reluctant to give up in-person appointments with their doctors.  There was uncertainty about the quality of care in telemedicine.  Many people just didn’t feel that a virtual appointment could offer the same certainty and peace of mind.    Recently, as many patients and healthcare providers have had to turn to telemedicine, they have been pleasantly surprised.  Many people who might not have chosen to use telemedicine have had to do so.  This has given many skeptics an opportunity to see for themselves how effective it can be.  They have seen first hand how easy and simple to use telehealth technology can help them to see their doctor and get healthcare from the comfort of their own home.  They have been able to schedule appointments at their own convenience without the time and inconvenience of traveling to their appointment and waiting around for their turn.  As former skeptics use telemedicine successfully public trust in telemedicine grows.