The Rise of Telemedicine

Telehealth is booming thanks to its many formants.  Video calls, mobile health, texting services, and remote patient monitoring are just a few of the various telehealth platforms available to patients.  Telemedicine provides remote clinical services that diagnose conditions, screen symptoms, deliver specialist consultations, and offer low-risk urgent care.  Telehealth is much broader, offering remote non-clinical services; these include fulfilling medications, chronic condition and pain management support, physical and occupational services, and the facilitation of administrative meetings. 

Telehealth is less than a century old but has been maturing at an incredible rate.  A brief timeline of its inception starts in the early 1900s and leads us to today.  Radio was used to give medical advice to ship clinicians in the 1920s, and by the 1970s, telehealth provided medical care to rural communities in Alaska.  By the 2010s, the American Telemedicine Association grew to 3,100 members, and today, even veterinarians offer telehealth services. 

Telemedicine has continued to thrive, despite opposing barriers.  The current state of telehealthcare is higher than it has ever been.  In the first quarter of 2020, there were 1,629,000 telehealth visits.  The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged many patients to try telehealth for the first time, and now 61% of Americans have had at least one telehealth appointment.  In addition, almost 70% of patients managed their concerns during the pandemic with telehealth guidance.

The barriers to telehealth are constantly being removed, increasing the popularity of these programs.  Currently, 41% of patients have limited access to the internet, but this is being solved with federal broadband initiatives.  Licensing used to pose an issue, but recent legislation now allows telehealth practitioners to reach across state lines.  66% of adults were concerned about the use of their private medical information in an online format, but with increasing popularity, consumers are growing more and more comfortable with their private records in the cloud. 

New technologies like apps, phone gadgets, wearables, and mail-in labs are increasing access to healthcare and helping those in need.  MedWand is a diagnostic tool, and Headspace is a mental health program that allows individuals to receive care with just a few taps.  Wearables like sensor-embedded clothing and smartwatches allow patients to constantly monitor their health status, and mail-in labs give patients information about their genetics, allergies, food sensitivities, and COVID-19. 

Telehealth will continue to boom.  Public skepticism has gone down, partially attributed to the decreasing concern over misdiagnoses; studies show no significant difference between in-person and telehealth diagnoses.  Additionally, the majority of studies show that patients prefer telehealth over in-person visits.  80% of patients believe telehealth provides the same quality of care as in-person visits, which is up from 56% before the pandemic.  Now that most Americans have tried it, they want telehealth to continue. 

The benefits of telehealthcare are evident.  82% of Americans say telehealth makes it easier to get the care they need because it is convenient, cost-effective, and more comfortable.  There is no need to take time off of work to commute to the doctor’s office, and many feel less anxiety and fear when seeing the doctor remotely.  31% of patients say their healthcare costs decreased when using telemedicine, with a savings estimate of 17-75%.  The future of medicine is just a few taps away.