Telemedicine was already on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In the face of hospital closings, physician shortages, and limited access to specialists, Americans have been learning to turn to telemedicine for healthcare not otherwise available.
This explains why telemedicine increased 53% from 2016 to 2017. In fact, the market is expected to hit $130 billion by 2025, as reported by the American Medical Association.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), telemedicine is the practice of using technology to deliver medical care at a distance. Elements of telemedicine include video-conferencing with patients and fellow physicians, as well as the collection of health data and images in real time.
How Telemedicine Has Supported COVID-19 Treatment Efforts
Thanks to well-established telemedicine foundations before the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals and doctors were able to seamlessly integrate telemedicine into their COVID-19 response.
The majority of pediatricians, family physicians, dentists, and other medical specialists closed their offices to non-emergency appointments, instead giving patients the opportunity to receive care virtually. This made it possible to adhere to government shutdown orders without abandoning patients or placing them at risk in the close quarters of an office or clinic.
Yarone Goren, the co-founder and COO of SteadyMD Inc, explained the incredible impact of COVID-19 on the telemedicine infrastructure: “In the last few weeks, we’ve seen about 10 years’ worth of change in telehealth.”
“Clients are asking for us to add the ability for their patients to converse with family members remotely and to have nurses and doctors directing care for patients who are self-isolating at home,” reported Jamey Edwards, Chief Executive of another telehealth company, Cloudbreak Health. “That’s less people who have to go to the hospital and is really appropriate for mild to moderate symptoms.”
Overall, the use of telemedicine in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic offers significant benefits for providers and patients alike:
- Limits number of people crowding hospitals
- Reduces exposure levels inside hospitals, which protects patients and doctors
- More available beds for severe COVID-19 patients
- Less use of valuable, hard-to-obtain protective gear for low-risk patients
Overall, telemedicine has made it possible to fight COVID-19 in the easiest and safest way possible. It’s protecting patients, family members, and doctors while reducing the burden on hospital resources.
Looking to Medical Care of the Future
Many experts in the medical industry agree that COVID-19 has helped solidify telemedicine as a core component of healthcare in the near future.
Edwards agrees. “Many people are now using telemedicine in their homes for the first time and are beginning to integrate it into their routines.”
Health care facilities are also pivoting to telemedicine in response to COVID-19 and realizing its positive benefits, when they otherwise may never have made the shift.
“Overnight, our patient count dropped by 30% to about 350 per day as patients were too scared to come into our clinic for fear of catching COVID-19,” explained the chief executive of Reliant Urgent Care in Los Angeles, CA. “We converted almost overnight from brick-and-mortar to telemedicine.”
As Howell reflects, “I don’t think we’ll go back to where things were before.” COVID-19 forced an up-and-coming trend into the spotlight, and now patients and doctors alike plan to embrace telemedicine for all its worth in the future.