Even though the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be over, it’s still influencing the way we use telehealth in 2022. At the start of the pandemic, it became clear that a different strategy was necessary in order to give people the healthcare they needed. Since in-person visits to a doctor’s office were either discouraged or actually impossible, telehealth providers stepped in to fill the gap. Fortunately, these platforms did a lot more than just connect doctors and therapists to their patients; they also provided comprehensive practice management features such as scheduling, invoicing, and billing.
Demand increased drastically within just a few months, and telehealth platforms definitely rose to the occasion. There were options before the pandemic, but not many, and they tended to be pretty unimpressive. In the last couple of years, however, advances in technology have given us an array of telehealth and teletherapy platforms that can meet the needs of pretty much any medical or mental health practice.
With this in mind, let’s explore some of the advantages brought by the rise of telehealth, as well as a few drawbacks that the industry faces.
Changes in insurance regulations
A lot of people depend on health insurance to cover the costs of healthcare, and there’s been some confusion about whether telehealth appointments are covered by specific insurance policies. After all, they seemed like an exception to the rule, rather than a 1:1 substitute for a standard visit to the doctor’s office. These days, however, the sheer number of telehealth appointments that are being billed to insurance companies is likely to change their stance on the practice. There’s no guarantee for this, but at this point they’re at least taking notice of the trend.
Even if COVID-19 wasn’t a factor, doctor’s offices are still essentially watering holes for infectious diseases. People who are very young, elderly, or have compromised immune systems take a risk every time they show up for an appointment in person, but now they don’t always have to thanks to telehealth. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting is necessary, but in many cases an appointment that’s held on a telehealth platform is more than adequate.
More consistent engagement between doctors and patients
The easier it is for a patient to stay connected with their primary healthcare provider, the more likely they are to actually do it. If keeping tabs on symptoms or a diagnosed illness is possible through a telehealth platform, that would save a lot of time and effort on frequent doctor’s visits. Plus, in some cases this could make regular checkups possible, when they hadn’t been before. Virtual appointments make remote monitoring much simpler for the physician, and a lot less labor-intensive for the patient.
Even if someone doesn’t suffer from a chronic illness, they could still benefit greatly from the convenience of virtual appointments. The top telehealth platforms have been optimized to work with most devices; some of them are even mobile-friendly, or work with a low-speed internet connection. Some people live far away from medical facilities – or far away from high-quality medical facilities, anyway. Others are simply too busy to keep up with regular visits to their doctor. If they can access those services online, however, that can make all the difference.
Before the recent increase in demand for telehealth, the offerings on hand weren’t all that impressive. You could find options that included things like HIPAA-compliant video calls, scheduling capabilities, and so on, but they were far from comprehensive. These days, the best telehealth platforms have a dizzying number of features that are designed to not only connect doctors and patients, but also manage the entire process, from scheduling, to note-taking, to billing.
While telehealth appointments don’t typically cost any less than in-person visits to the doctor, you do get to skip a bunch of associated costs; these include gas or transportation, time taken away from work, childcare, parking, and more. Going to a doctor’s appointment usually involves one or more of these expenses, but with a telehealth appointment, all you need is a computer and a WiFi connection.
What about the challenges that telehealth is currently facing?
As with any rapidly expanding service, telehealth is experiencing a few growing pains. Given time, however, they can all be addressed and resolved.
Mobility for patient data
Data storage and handling tends to be a fairly standardized process for doctor’s offices, so when patient records are being managed on a telehealth platform, it should offer the same consistency and ease of access as any other system. From back-office notes, to billing details, to patient records, they should be available to everyone who needs to see them, and kept safe from everyone who doesn’t.
Even if some healthcare providers were already offering telehealth services, the sudden increase in demand could have put a strain on their infrastructure. In some cases, their patients had to deal with delays or unavailability as the providers updated and expanded their telehealth offerings.
Limited IT resources
There’s a lot of work that goes on in the background in order to provide telehealth services to huge numbers of people; for example, IT teams are responsible for maintaining data integrity and security. If those needs suddenly increase, the IT team will have to expand as well – not only in terms of actual team members, but also in terms of budget and facility size.
In order to keep patient records secure, telehealth platforms have to encrypt the video calls (where the actual appointment happens), as well as the patient data that’s stored on the platform. If a basic video call platform is used as a substitute for an in-person appointment, that may not satisfy HIPAA regulations.
Telehealth may have gotten a boost from the pandemic, but it fully deserves its current popularity. In fact, it’s likely that telehealth will continue to grow as more and more people find out how convenient, efficient, and effective it is at taking care of their healthcare needs.