The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lasting mark on people and economies around the world. And everywhere you look, you’ll find that it’s wrought changes that will persist long after it’s over. One area where that’s especially obvious is in the healthcare field.
During the pandemic, doctors and hospitals had to scramble to change the way they delivered services, both to cope with the added workload and to protect the safety of patients. And they leaned heavily on telehealth to do it. That was a marked shift from the pre-pandemic norm, which saw a mere 9% of visits with primary care and specialist practitioners conducted via telehealth platforms. And by April of 2020, that number had jumped to 51%.
And now that the pandemic is beginning to recede, experts in the healthcare industry expect that the telehealth solutions rolled out over the past year and a half are here to stay. And it isn’t just remote doctor’s visits that will remain common. There’s a whole array of at-home diagnostics that are about to become commonplace going forward. Here’s a look at the telehealth landscape and how the pandemic cemented its role in modern healthcare delivery.
Growing Reliance on At-Home Diagnostic Options
One thing that had held telehealth back in the runup to the pandemic was that patients could only receive basic consultations remotely. In many cases, they’d still have to travel to a doctor’s office or a health campus if they needed any kind of diagnostic testing done. But the pandemic coincided with the availability of a new generation of at-home diagnostic options that have changed that dynamic completely.
Whether it’s at home STD test kits or those meant to detect allergies and other conditions, patients now have the option of getting the tests they need without leaving home. And that has convinced many people who previously wouldn’t have used telehealth to give it a try. It’s a change that helped drive telehealth adoption during the pandemic and one that should continue as at-home diagnostic options improve.
More People Using Wearable Medical Technology
Another shift in the telehealth landscape that happened during the pandemic was a growing acceptance among patients using wearable medical devices. It’s a change that was helped by the surge in the use of health trackers and devices like the Apple Watch in the pre-pandemic period. So when the pandemic drove doctors and hospitals to rely more on such remote monitoring technology, patients took to it with ease.
And big technology companies noticed the trend. It has driven many of them to add healthcare-focused features to their products, which will create instant market penetration for the technology. With countless people already set up for remote health monitoring, it’s only natural that telehealth usage will increase. It’s the perfect complement to wearables, and now that patients are accustomed to it, there’s every reason to believe it’s going to be a permanent part of the healthcare landscape.
A Pronounced Shift in Attitudes
Taken alone, the factors mentioned here may not have guaranteed that telehealth is here to stay. After all, one of the biggest reasons that adoption rates lagged in the pre-pandemic period was that people simply didn’t like it. But there’s evidence that the prevailing attitudes have changed as a result of the pandemic.
In one survey, a stunning 88% of patients indicated that they wanted to keep using telehealth for non-emergency medical services – even after it was no longer required. Compared to recent years, that’s nothing short of a revolutionary shift. As recently as 2019, similar surveys found substantial majorities who were hesitant about using telehealth at all and sizable minorities that claimed they’d never use it.
When you put all of the puzzle pieces together, a picture begins to emerge of a healthcare sector that’s on the verge of a permanent reconfiguration. You have technology advancing enough to make telehealth and at-home diagnostics practical, patients ready and willing to use remote monitoring technology, and resistance to telehealth evaporating fast. In other words, the market has spoken – and though it was helped along by the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like the age of telehealth is now upon us.