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How the Pandemic Made Telehealth Popular

The pandemic may not have brought many positive developments, but there are a few bright spots.

Telehealth, for example, has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, and this has been directly related to the unique situation caused by COVID-19. Now that restrictions are easing up, though, telehealth is continuing to be popular with people all over the US.

Whether it’s being used for monitoring heart disease or seeking help for mental health issues, telehealth can effectively connect healthcare providers and patients.

Of course, not all telehealth platforms are the same; some of them focus mainly on encrypted video calls, while others are detail-oriented enough to include therapy notes software.

Some healthcare professionals might choose to simply integrate a basic video call platform into their practices, but others decide to use more comprehensive platforms that let them take care of everything online, from booking appointments to processing payments. If you look at the big picture, however, it’s clear to see that telehealth got a huge boost from the pandemic – and that this telehealth boom will probably continue well into the future.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why, as well as a few challenges facing telehealth today.

Better technology and software

Even though telehealth was in limited use before the pandemic, COVID-19 brought a sense of urgency that resulted in rapid advancements in related technologies.

After all, in order to provide healthcare services for millions of people instead of thousands of them, telehealth platforms of every description would have to step up their games.

And that’s exactly what they did. From expanding their offerings to improving their software, today’s version of telehealth is much more sophisticated than what it was a few years ago.

Fewer associated expenses

Who wouldn’t want to save money on trips to the doctor’s office?

It isn’t that telehealth appointments are actually cheaper than in-person visits; it’s that you don’t have to pay for all the other things that usually go along with those visits.

There isn’t any need to pay for public transport or gas, childcare, parking, or time taken away from work.

Greater convenience

This is obvious, but it deserves a place on the list: telehealth appointments are so much more convenient than having to make a trip to a medical facility.

A lot of people are just too busy to take that much time away from their other responsibilities, whether that be work, kids, or anything else. They might even be able to attend virtual medical appointments on their smartphones!

As long as the video call is encrypted and HIPAA-compliant, there’s a lot of flexibility for both doctor and patient when it comes to setting up telehealth visits.

Less risk

Even though the need for medical attention skyrocketed during the pandemic, a lot of people were hesitant to make the appointments they needed.

Not only were they trying to avoid public spaces anyway, but doctors’ offices are known for essentially being watering holes for infectious diseases. If someone can visit their healthcare provider virtually, though, they cut the infection risk from their appointment down to zero.

More consistent remote monitoring

From diabetes to asthma, there’s a huge range of conditions that require regular monitoring.

Even if the disease doesn’t present with severe symptoms, healthcare providers are sometimes the only ones who can detect changes in the patient’s condition. In many cases, a chronic illness can easily be monitored remotely through telehealth appointments, sometimes with the help of medical devices.

Scalability

Even though telehealth has grown exponentially to meet demand, it can still experience some growing pains in individual cases.

As more and more patients from specific practices opt for telehealth services instead of in-person visits, these practices have to either limit availability according to their current capacity, or invest in more infrastructure and equipment in order to serve their patients better.

Data mobility

While the first concern should be to keep patient data secure, telehealth platforms also need to streamline workflows by providing access to data when and where it’s needed. For instance, healthcare professionals need to access patient notes and medical records, and accountants need to see patients’ financial information.

If this process is inefficient and clumsy, then clinicians will have a hard time doing their jobs as they struggle to access things like patient notes, logins, and pertinent applications.

Unfavorable health insurance regulations

It’s pretty standard for health insurance to cover routine doctors’ visits, but what if those visits happen virtually?

In a lot of cases, those appointments aren’t covered by insurance.

In fact, a couple of years ago there were many healthcare practices that weren’t even sure how to file claims for telehealth appointments. These days, however, health insurance companies are surely taking notice of the trend; with any luck, they’ll change regulations regarding telehealth appointments soon.

HIPAA compliance

No matter what features are offered by telehealth platforms, they have to be HIPAA-compliant first and foremost.

When the pandemic first started straining the capabilities of telehealth due to skyrocketing demand, some healthcare providers inadvertently used video call platforms that didn’t satisfy HIPAA’s requirements, usually due to the fact that the calls were unencrypted.

In order to keep patient data safe and confidential, everything from video calls to databases have to be protected by digital security measures like encryption and server monitoring.

IT-related limitations

A lot of background work goes into making telehealth services possible; if an IT team suddenly has to do ten times as much work as before, that’s going to strain their capabilities, to say the least.

In order to provide adequate telehealth services, healthcare providers will have to consider expanding their IT resources to match growing demand.

The takeaway

The pandemic may be on its way out, but it looks like telehealth will be going strong for a long time.

Healthcare professionals, whether they’re doctors, therapists, or psychiatrists, are already doing everything they can to meet the needs of their patients; the fact that telehealth platforms can make their jobs easier is definitely a good thing.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko at Pexels


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