The Rise of Telehealth

Emily Torgerson  •   December 8, 2021

Telehealth enables health care providers to deliver care for their patients without an in-person office visit. Telehealth is done primarily online with internet access on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Options for Telehealth Care:

  • Talk to a doctor live over the phone or video chat.
  • Send and receive messages from a doctor using secure email messaging.
  • Use remote monitoring so a doctor can check on you at home. For example, a device may be used to gather vitals that relays health progress to your doctor.1

How COVID-19 Affected Telehealth

Prior to March 2020, the concept of telehealth was somewhat known but not common in practice, partly due to the vague and constantly changing regulations on the reimbursement of doctors and licensure, especially across state lines. These state and federal barriers regarding the use of telehealth have long provided obstacles to the recognition of its full potential.2 Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, telehealth adoption overall has approached up to 17 percent of all outpatient and office visit claims with evaluation and management services.3

Amidst the various stay-at-home orders in 2020, health care providers were limited in ways they could deliver safe and effective health care. As a result, telehealth peaked in April 2020, when overall utilization for outpatient care and office visits was 78 times higher than in February 2020. Apart from this spike, telehealth usage has since plateaued after June 2020.3

This change of tune, although forced upon society, was able to succeed by increased patient and health care provider willingness to use telehealth services, as well as regulatory changes enabling greater access and reimbursement. During the global pandemic, telehealth was in some instances the only care option, and now offers opportunities to reinvent virtual and in-person care models, with a goal of improved health care access, outcomes, and affordability.

Why Do Americans Prefer Telehealth?

According to new data, more Americans seem to enjoy utilizing telehealth services. Out of 2,000 U.S. adults, 42 percent have used telehealth services since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of those respondents who said they like using telehealth services:

65 percent think the virtual visits are more convenient than traveling to their provider’s office.

63 percent are put at ease by not having to worry about being exposed to other potentially sick patients.

44 percent believe it is easier to schedule a telehealth appointment.

38 percent prefer the efficiency of the post-appointment communications.4

Benefits of Telehealth

Although telehealth does not work for every patient or every medical condition, there are several benefits to the service:

  • Limited physical contact reduces chance of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Reduces transportation costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Increased access to specialists who may not typically serve rural areas.

What Does the Future Hold?

In a post-COVID-19 world, telehealth will no longer be a “value-add” for health care providers; it will become an expectation for care. Virtual care is poised to transform the way health care is administered, in response to both provider and patient concerns and preferences. Today’s health care providers are always looking for modern ways to maximize patient engagement, health outcomes, and patient/provider communication, which must hold true whether the visit is virtual or in person. Sometimes, however, in-person health care visits are necessary. Make sure to discuss any disadvantages or risks with your doctor and never rely on telehealth if you have a medical emergency.