Telehealth, which played a small role in the healthcare delivery ecosystem before COVID-19, moved to the forefront of healthcare delivery,1, 2 raising its value and importance dramatically. Recent studies documented the sudden, steep rise in
telehealth and its acceptance and demand, as a viable means to safely treat patients during the pandemic crisis, and as we are learning, post-crisis.
Before the pandemic, telehealth was little used and faced several barriers. Top of the list of obstacles was the patient perception of the poor quality of care. Almost 40%3 of respondents in a telehealth survey were concerned that they would not get proper treatment or a diagnosis with a virtual medical visit. Other barriers included limited insurance coverage, licensure regulations, and practitioner’s inadequate technological capabilities.4
Most, if not all, of these barriers, fell during the pandemic, and none more dramatically than the perceived versus actual patient experience. One-quarter of respondents had not even considered telehealth as an option pre-pandemic. However, two-thirds said that because of COVID-19 they are now much more willing to try telehealth services in the future.5
Telehealth platforms enabled patients to receive healthcare safely, yet effectively. While people may have been reluctant to try telehealth, they are now embracing it in ways that no one could have predicted pre-COVID-19. The numbers are staggering.
For example, a pre-pandemic study projected the telehealth market to grow at an annual CAGR of 14.9% by 2026 with a market value of approximately $53.1 billion by 2026.6
COVID-19 drastically changed the predictions for telehealth. Frost and Sullivan project a 64.3% increase in demand for telehealth visits and forecast a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025 at a CAGR of 38.2%.7
The pandemic panic also kept people from seeking needed face-to-face medical care. A survey of 36.5 million people by The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that in-person healthcare visits decreased by 37% from March through June 2019 to 2020. But during that same period, virtual medical visits increased from 0.3% of all contacts in 2019 to 23.6% in 2020. In addition, virtual behavioral health visits also increased from 22.1% to 46.1%.8 In many cases, the switch from in-person to video consultations happened overnight depending on the existing technological capabilities of the provider.
While many practitioners may have been hesitant to invest in telehealth technology before the pandemic, they jumped on the virtual-care bandwagon. Now 93%9 of healthcare providers offer an online portal, website, or mobile app.
Americans are finding they like the convenience and effectiveness of telehealth. In one survey, 60% of respondents used telehealth services for the first time during the pandemic and three quarters want to continue using it post pandemic10 for several reasons, including:
Quality. Americans like the quality of the virtual care they receive; 80% rate telehealth services as equal to or better than in-person healthcare. Of the survey respondents, 56% say telehealth is most effective for routine checkups while 53% find it most effective for talk therapy and mental health counseling.11
Accessibility. Telehealth is simply easier. In a SatelliteInternet.com survey, more than 25% of telehealth users lived 15 miles, or more, from the nearest doctor’s office, which can make in-person visits inconvenient, time-consuming, and expensive, especially if patients have a difficult time scheduling due to work or personal responsibilities. In the survey, 54% said they are more likely to seek medical advice if a telehealth option is available.12
Speed. Simply put, in-person visits can take much longer to schedule, up to two weeks longer according to 46%13 of respondents. And, they take longer on the actual day of the visit.
Convenience. Patients don’t have to travel, find parking, and sit in waiting rooms. They can simply log in a few minutes before the appointment without leaving home.
Safety. Telehealth provides peace of mind by enabling medical visits without the risk of infecting others or being infected by others.14
Monitoring. Telehealth, via 5G, can directly improve patient care and treatment through the use of remote monitoring devices. 5G unlocks the speed and high reliability needed to make it possible.
Insurance. Pre-COVID-19, many people did not know if telehealth visits were covered by insurance. Now it is generally not an issue. At the time of the SatelliteInternet.com survey, 73% said their healthcare program includes a telehealth reimbursement.15
As 5G cellular technology rolls out and becomes more widely available, telehealth connectivity will increase. 5G promises greater bandwidth and data speeds, low latency, the ability to deliver effective IoT to a massive number of devices. That means eliminating many connectivity problems and enabling faster, cleaner, almost instantaneous data transmissions. 5G means incredible leaps forward in patient treatment, outcomes, and experiences.
That’s the new reality of 5G and telehealth: happier, healthier, more engaged patients.