In a new survey of U.S. specialists, 79% said that their use of telemedicine technology had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, from data and analytics company GlobalData, found that fewer than half of the cardiology, gastroenterology, pulmonology and respiratory specialists surveyed were using telehealth before the pandemic.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed said they would continue to use virtual care technology in the future.
“Telemedicine has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus and to reduce the burden on overwhelmed healthcare systems,” said Kathryn Whitney, director of thematic analysis at GlobalData.
WHY IT MATTERS
The survey adds yet another data point to the massive increase in telemedicine use amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some health systems have reported staggering growth, with many pointing to the relaxations in federal regulations around telehealth as facilitating the change.
“As a result of the pandemic, regulations and policies governing reimbursement and use of telemedicine have changed significantly, leading to expanded access and an unprecedented demand for these services,” said Whitney.
But uncertainty about those regulations also dogs the industry. The specialists GlobalData surveyed cited the possibility of future unsupportive policies as a reason for discontinuing telehealth use after the public health crisis.
“Changes in regulation will be important in providing solutions to improving access to care for underserved and rural populations and providing affordable care to the uninsured,” said Whitney.
Others said they needed to see patients in person in order to best provide care – again, an unsurprising response, particularly with regard to patients who may not have access to remote monitoring tools.
The same report also found that telemedicine mobile app downloads had dramatically increased.
The patient companion app for InTouch Health, for instance, had about 2,300 downloads in 2019, but more than 22,300 in the second quarter of 2020 alone.
THE LARGER TREND
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to roil throughout the country, telehealth visit numbers have somewhat decreased – perhaps as a result of patients pursuing necessary in-person care or exhibiting less fear around catching the virus in a healthcare setting.
Still, many stakeholders say there’s no going back to a pre-COVID-19 environment when it comes to the virtual care landscape. Patients, especially those in healthcare deserts, have grown to appreciate its convenience, and many providers have found themselves “pleasantly surprised” with the transition.
ON THE RECORD
“COVID-19 may be the tipping point for telemedicine as the full potential of the technology is increasingly realized by patients, healthcare systems and payers,” said Whitney.