Telehealth has dramatically shifted the way medical professionals treat and monitor their patients. While modern technology has advanced telemedicine by leaps and bounds in the past few years, the practice of treating patients remotely has been around since the 1940s.
The virtual care of today utilizes networked software and hardware to answer medical questions, perform initial examinations, and administer treatment. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical professionals have had to rely even more on technology to look after their patients virtually. For instance, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), telehealth visits ballooned by 154% during the last week of March 2020, when compared against the same time period in 2019. While in-person healthcare will certainly see a resurgence after the pandemic, it’s clear that telehealth is becoming a more integral part of patient treatment.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth can be defined simply as the delivery of treatment and health-related services via telecommunication technologies and electronic information. Telemedicine is often used across long distances, allowing for patients to receive treatment without ever having to step into a health office or even leave their own homes. Some of the healthcare services that can be performed virtually include provider and patient education, behavioral treatment, physical therapy, and general health information.
Thanks to modern telecommunication technology, remote care and treatment have never been more accessible. Through video conferencing services, meeting with a healthcare professional is practically seamless and can be performed from anywhere and at any time as long as there is a stable internet connection. Additionally, thanks to new technology like smartwatches, fitness trackers, and physician-issued devices, healthcare providers can perform remote monitoring on their patients.
Telehealth, From the 1940s to Today
The first attempt at telehealth services occurred in the 1940s in Pennsylvania, when radiology images were sent 24 miles via electronic medical record transfer on a telephone line. This technology was capitalized on throughout the decades, with the 1960s seeing the first widespread use of telemedicine in urban communities. NASA, the Department of Defense, the Public Health Department, and the Human Services Department all invested in telehealth technology throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
By the '90s and early 2000s, telecommunication technology advancements led to the creation of video chat programs that allowed healthcare professionals to administer live virtual care seamlessly. Today, telehealth is shifting to replace many in-person care scenarios. While in-person care will likely always be necessary for some scenarios, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that there was indeed demand for virtual healthcare services.
In March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. Due to lockdown procedures and counter infection practices, in-person services plummeted, with 41% of patients reporting that they skipped care due to the virus. During this period, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relaxed telehealth restrictions for physicians and improved access to care for Medicare recipients. This temporary change in services allowed for the significant expansion of telehealth services.
Telemedicine rapidly became an essential tool that allowed healthcare providers to communicate with their patients without the risk of viral transmission. According to a survey of cardiology, gastroenterology, pulmonology, and respiratory physicians, due to the pandemic, the use of telehealth technology increased by nearly 80%. Another study published in Health Affairs found that telehealth visits made up roughly 30% of healthcare appointments during the pandemic.
The unprecedented rise in telehealth during COVID-19, and the recent relaxing of government restrictions on telemedicine, have many healthcare professionals asking, ‘is telehealth here to stay?’ While it is hard to say how central virtual care will be to future treatments, the ease of access that telehealth services deliver makes it likely that it will continue to supplement in-person care.
Benefits of Virtual Care
Telemedicine brings a number of benefits to both patients and the medical professionals who treat them. For one, virtual care is convenient, which means patients are less likely to cancel their appointments. For example, a study of rheumatology outpatient appointments found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, one practice found that within a ten-week period only one in 825 telemedicine appointments were canceled. Prior to the pandemic, this same facility saw 527 cancellations in a similar 10-week period.
Telehealth services can benefit medical professionals on an individual level as well, by mitigating the risks of burnout. According to a 2015 study, 79% of physicians wanted to implement telehealth services as they believed it would improve overall work-life balance. Telemedicine has also been proven to reduce overhead costs, particularly when it comes to emergency departments. A recent study found that funneling patients with emergency needs through a telehealth service found that practices could save more than $1,500 per visit.
On a patient level, telemedicine simplifies access to care as patients can avoid having to take time away from work or spend extra time commuting to a facility to make an appointment. In addition, telehealth services can expand consumer access and coverage, particularly for those in rural areas. Patients living in more remote communities can utilize telehealth to connect to a medical health professional without having to spend the additional time, money, and effort it would otherwise take to travel to an in-person appointment. This improved access to care can help to attract new patients and retain existing patients.
It is clear that telehealth provides substantial benefits to both patients and staff, and is likely to only grow in popularity as virtual care services become more widely available.
How CNECT Can Help You Expand Your Health Office’s Telehealth Services
As a group purchasing organization (GPO), CNECT can help your facility implement virtual care services and save all of the products and solutions required. From remote patient monitoring devices, scheduling systems, video conferencing, and secure medical messaging platforms, CNECT can help you save on supplies and expand your telehealth services. When you become a member of CNECT you’ll also gain the guidance and expertise of a team of nationwide representatives dedicated to supporting your organization and providing custom savings strategies. With CNECT as your GPO partner, you can extend telemedicine to your patients with confidence.
Contact a CNECT representative to learn more about becoming a member today.