Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a time without the internet. It has become an indispensable part of the way we communicate with each other. Today, it’s one tap or click to jump on Zoom for meetings, check in with friends on FaceBook, or catch up on worldwide news. The internet has also enabled the possibility of virtual healthcare, and this article will discuss the future of telehealth.

The Internet and Telehealth

In just over six months, COVID-19 has turned daily life upside down. Travel is restricted, people work from home, schools are closed, and public events halted. With many people reluctant to risk going to their doctor’s office, the need for options offering a safe and convenient way of accessing healthcare has increased. Telehealth is the leader in this new era of virtual care.

The Future of Telehealth – Virtual Healthcare Is on the Rise

Even before the current pandemic, the adoption of telehealth was increasing. However, telehealth is now being used much more widely to screen and diagnose patients because it does not risk exposure to the coronavirus. The requirement for social distancing is having a profound impact on the way healthcare providers manage incoming patients. Providers who previously have not offered telehealth are now beginning to implement the technology. This move into remote healthcare is supported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The Challenges for Telehealth

Until recently, CMS had mandated that Medicare reimbursement could only apply to telehealth services that met one of three criteria:

  • A site in a designated rural area with a shortage of health professionals. 
  • A program incorporated into a federal telemedicine project.
  • The patient is treated in an approved healthcare facility. 

The advent of COVID-19 has caused CMS to waive these requirements, at least for now. However, the future of telehealth is dependent on overcoming other challenges.

  • One survey found that 72 percent of respondents reported that they have patients who do not have capabilities for virtual visits. 
  • Some healthcare providers have not invested in the necessary infrastructure. 
  • Concerning reimbursement of telehealth services, laws enacted by states have varied. However, regulatory changes by CMS mean that providers will be able to bill for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits.

The Patient and Telehealth

According to one survey, 23 percent of participants dislike interacting with an unfamiliar healthcare provider. This presents an opportunity for medical professionals to adopt telehealth technology to further engage their existing patients. For telehealth providers that mainly handle one-time urgent issues, it’s critical to engage with patients in a meaningful way. The future of telehealth depends upon taking the time to fully understand the patient’s situation and the careful planning of the patient’s care journey.

The Road Ahead for Telehealth

Healthcare systems with a patient-centered approach are beginning to leverage healthcare data software that can enable real-time virtual healthcare visits to be available to more people, triage patients quickly, and optimize care coordination. Ramping up telehealth adoption enables care to be delivered remotely without the risk of virus exposure. The future of telehealth could include making a major contribution to coronavirus screening, testing, and treatment efforts. 

Final Thoughts

The reign of the coronavirus will be over one day, and just like the internet, telehealth will remain a predominant player in U.S. healthcare. The future of telehealth is assured.

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