Aug 12 2020
Before the pandemic started, telehealth’s (IBISWorld report OD5775) prevalence was already increasing with many experts looking for ways to further expand it. Defined as the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies (51721) to support long-distance clinical health care, telehealth has benefited from the accelerated advancement of technologies relating to wireless communication and data storage and processing. With the pandemic causing more people to avoid doctor visits as well as increased demand in rural areas with limited access to healthcare, the status of telehealth within the US healthcare system (62) is being carefully looked at.
The industry’s key challenges
Telehealth’s growth has been roughly in line with the overall technology sector (51) as the industry requires advanced data processing and streaming tools. However, adoption has lagged significantly behind other comparable technology markets due to the complexity around using new tools with patient data. The use of videoconferencing (OD4594) and the transfer of electronic medical records (OD4172) over the internet exposes patient data to significantly more vulnerabilities versus a relatively closed system within a hospitals’ network. Another large obstacle that the industry faces involves the medical insurance industry (52411b) and reimbursement. While obvious limitations exist when doctors care for patients virtually, insurance companies view this as equivalent to an in-patient visit. As a result, reimbursement has become a significant debate for the industry.
Effects of the pandemic and the case for wearable tech
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 15,000 beneficiaries received telehealth services per week, compared to 1.7 million in the last week of April 2020. This spike highlights the demand from two distinct populations: patients avoiding in-person visits in fear of contracting COVID-19 as well as patients in more rural settings who do not readily have access to health services. While doctors are unable to perform the full gamut of their abilities via a phone call or video conference, new wearable health devices for measuring blood pressure and heart rate are supporting telemedicine growth.
The industry’s outlook is highly tenuous despite recent executive support
The current administration has recently expanded telehealth services through an executive order; however, much is to be determined for the state of the industry after the pandemic. Many private insurers have yet to decide on whether to extend reimbursement for telehealth services. In addition, there is also uncertainty as to whether or not patients will prefer virtual or in-person visits, as well as the potential for fraud. Overall, the industry is expected to go through a period of rapid change with the new data collected amid rising usage.