A patient logs on and sees their doctor. There’s a brief 10-minute conversation. From there, a prescription is written and sent off to the pharmacy. No contact is involved. It’s a little impersonal but efficient, especially during our current situation. In 2019, telehealth services were at a mere 11% utilization for consumers. For 2020, that number jumped to almost 46%. This is not new news. With a global pandemic at full tilt and a need to curb unnecessary exposure, many providers and patients were able to continue their care through telehealth.
Viewpoints from Briana Loff
But what’s going to happen when the world moves into the next stage of “normal”? Is telehealth here to stay?
Many in the healthcare world believe that virtual healthcare will be a thing of the past and that we’ll start to see those numbers decline in the coming months of 2021. I, however, am a little more optimistic. I see COVID-19 as a catalyst – and virtual care isn’t going away. The president of our national employee benefits practice saw the value in this healthcare delivery model sharing his views in an article he wrote five years ago.
The telehealth wave allowed providers to expand their access and reduce wait times, which are getting longer every year.
The national average wait time, found in a 2017 survey from Merritt Hawkins, was more than 29 days to see a family medicine doctor – months for behavioral health specialists according to research by Ketchum Analytics in 2018. But telemedicine can offer 24-hour-a-day, immediate access to primary care physicians, emergency doctors and behavioral health specialists regardless of where a patient is located.
Telehealth also offers effective virtual visits that can help establish a relationship between patients and their primary care providers.
It sets the tone for continuity of healthcare. A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2018 found that 45% of 18-to-29-year-olds did not have a relationship with a primary care physician. Having continuity of care improves patient outcomes, satisfaction, increases adherence to medical regimens and decreases the use of hospital services.
When it comes to medical records, before the pandemic we were operating in a stone-age-like system where patients had to be their own advocates.
But with the introduction of digitization to our healthcare system, we see more records going portable. Test results, explanation of benefits, after-visit summaries and a multitude of resources that we didn’t have access to before are now bundled into an application on our iPhone.
Now more than ever, the world is about convenience.
With the touch of a button we can track packages and know when they arrive at our door, we can grocery shop from an app, or even order and view existing prescriptions at our pharmacy. It’s time that something as essential as healthcare catches up.
EPIC offers these opinions for general information only. EPIC does not intend this material to be, nor may any person receiving this information construe or rely on this material as, tax or legal advice. The matters addressed in this article and any related discussions or correspondence should be reviewed and discussed with legal counsel prior to acting or relying on these materials.
Account Manager, Employee Benefits – New York, NY