The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed almost every aspect of Americans’ lives, creating virtual workplaces, converting living rooms into classrooms, and accelerating the proliferation of telehealth services. While hospitals fill and healthcare professionals are stretched to their limits, telehealth has become a necessary component in delivering non-emergency services to patients in their homes.
These services expand access to care, reduce disease exposure, preserve scarce provisions of personal protection equipment (PPE), and relieve the strain on crowded facilities, providing benefits to patients and professionals. Now it is becoming evident going forward many patients want to keep telehealth as a component of their standard, in-person care.
Many patients have grown accustomed to meeting with physicians and therapists from the comfort of their homes. It is apparent that many have found the increase in access and ease of use beneficial during stay-at-home orders and quarantines but are also in favor of utilizing telehealth after the pandemic has subsided.
One survey indicates that over 40% of patients prefer a digital-first approach to healthcare that includes both telehealth and in-person visits with healthcare providers. Although there is a natural human need for face-to-face contact with others, video conferencing has allowed mental healthcare providers, such as psychiatrists and psychological therapists, to keep their patients actively engaged in their well-being.
Addiction support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are meeting through video conferencing apps, pandemic-related stress can be shared privately and remotely, and vital medications are prescribed for patients with otherwise limited access to psychiatric services. All the while, first responders and essential workers are dedicated to serving high-risk populations and advance-stage patients in person.
There are certainly concerns and limitations for telemedicine on the side of both patients and professionals: cybersecurity, technological challenges, benefit coverage, and more. Some of these issues are being combatted now while the demand is high. For instance, more systems are offering technical training for professionals as they adapt to the digital healthcare environment. Most providers use HIPAA-compliant software, ensuring patients’ confidentiality is protected, and some state officials are working to ensure telehealth visits are covered by public health plans.
However, it has become apparent that the increased access has enabled patients to seek care when they otherwise would have avoided in-person support, and if demand remains, telemedicine will likely be integrated into providers’ plans of care.