2020 is seeing an explosion in demand for telehealth services. By August of 2020 telehealth use among Medicare beneficiaries had gone up by more than 11,000%. More people are choosing telemedicine for their healthcare than ever before. Covid-19 has swept the planet resulting in a global pandemic the likes of which most of us have never seen before. This highly contagious virus has sickened millions and left a widespread trail of lasting complications and medical uncertainty in its wake. As a country, we have struggled to stay ahead of it. The public information has been conflicting, confusing, and seems to change frequently as the whole world seems to be “learning as we go”. One clear overriding message though seems to be “try not to get it”.
Stay at Home Orders Drive a New Need for Telemedicine
Beginning with widespread shutdowns and various stay at home orders across the country people have been encouraged to stay at home and when they are out keep their distance from others. By April of 2020 more than 300 million Americans, or over 90% of the population was under a stay at home order. As a result, the need for virtual health care skyrocketed. Everyone from healthcare providers to insurance companies, to our federal government quickly shifted to supporting telehealth services as an alternative to going out to the doctor. COVID-19 is expected to drive the US telehealth market into over 80% YOY growth in 2020.
At NYU Langone Health where they already had an established telehealth initiative, they used to get excited when they had 50 virtual visits in a day. As New York began to experience the full scope of its COVID outbreak they saw that number of daily virtual visits rise to 7,000 in only three days. Even cities not experiencing the crush of virus cases found in New York saw significant increased demand for telehealth services. Many people began to see telehealth not just as a new option in health care but as the safest way to access healthcare that could not be delayed.
Reduction or Suspension of Elective and Non-Essential Health Services Increase Need for Telemedicine
When stay at home orders were first put in place in cities across the country some included a suspension of non-emergency medical services. From elective surgery to dental care, services were put on hold. This was both to keep people safe and also to conserve things like face masks, personal protective equipment, and hospital beds for where they were most needed.
Telehealth is a logical alternative to in-person medical care. Through telehealth, many important medical services can be provided in a safe, socially distant way. Healthcare facilities have used telehealth technology to triage patients from afar. This can reduce the number of patients ending up in emergency rooms or just sitting in clinic waiting rooms. Patients can also be assessed for symptoms of COVID-19 remotely reducing their chance of spreading the virus to others if they are infected. Follow-up care with patients using remote monitoring has also increased. Patients vulnerable from other health issues can recover at home reducing their risk of exposure to the virus.
Ongoing Fear of Exposure to COVID-19 Keeps Demand for Telehealth High
The pattern of hot spots for COVID-19 is constantly changing. Personal responsibility for social distancing is the new normal. While stay at home orders are less common people are still urged to make smart choices. Many cities, counties, and even major corporations have mandated wearing face masks outside of the home. Signs stating “face-covering required to enter” are common in store windows and public buildings large and small. Reminders to stay 6 feet apart can be found everywhere and cashiers and customer service employees are often protected behind Plexiglas barriers.
While many people can now go to the doctor, schedule face to face medical appointments, and leave their homes at will many are still choosing telemedicine. If they have a choice between a virtual visit that offers no potential risk of infection and an in-person visit many choose virtual. Why run an unnecessary risk? Grandparents want to see their grandchildren, people want to see their friends. If they can get their medical care risk free they can save those face to face moments for the interactions they value most.