Global experts agree that 2020 will go down in the history of the healthcare industry as a digital tipping point. Health tech companies have been making more services available via telehealth for years, but many healthcare providers and patients resisted virtual care. Then the COVID-19 pandemic’s social distancing requirements disrupted healthcare delivery, accelerating the inevitable telemedicine revolution. According to Medical Economics, utilization was up 33% in early 2020 and continues to rise steadily.
Deloitte predicts that the healthcare industry’s focus will increasingly shift away from treatment to prevention and early intervention. This means you’ll be treating more health-conscious consumers who want more control over their care plans. Providing patient care for tech-savvy populations that invite AI into their lives will require engaging them where they are and integrating what they know. To help you achieve that, we’ve compiled the telehealth trends to watch for in 2021 and beyond.
Telehealth trends that are already disrupting healthcare
Now that the traditional clinic and hospital model has been disrupted, the healthcare industry’s new real-time virtual care model is bringing care home for millions of patients.
Endocrinologists are using apps to diagnose and treat diabetes. Dermatology and cardiology specialists are conducting exams via Zoom or artificial intelligence programs. Addiction counselors are prescribing drugs for opioid dependency in real time through a patient portal. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed healthcare professionals to provide care that, until now, was only thought to be feasible in person.
The American Health Law Association reports that, according to Department of Health and Human Services statistics, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits in April 2020 were made using telehealth. And Deloitte predicts that: “By 2040, the consumer — rather than health plans or providers — will determine when, where, and with whom he or she engages for care or to sustain well-being.” The biggest healthcare industry disruptions will be informed by these 6 telehealth trends:
1. Interoperable data
Interoperable data — aggregating and storing individual, population, institutional, and environmental data on one platform — will become the norm. Currently, the healthcare industry is comprised of disconnected hospital systems, health plans, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device producers. By 2040, patients are predicted to be at the center of healthcare with always-on data. This will enable collaboration among an ever-widening array of healthcare providers, payers (including Medicare), and services.
Healthcare industry disruptors will provide more precise, less complex, less invasive, and less expensive interventions and treatments — and will share that virtual care data with patients seamlessly.
Public health and primary care are already being defined holistically, incorporating mental, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual care to attain an overall state of well-being. Having access to and owning their detailed health records will enable patients to make decisions about their own health plans and communicate those choices to their clinicians via HIPAA-Compliant platforms.
2. Open yet secure platforms
Platforms are becoming more open all the time as site-less health infrastructure rapidly links consumers with healthcare facilities, insurers, and other reimbursement stakeholders. High-security components are rapidly being refined and standardized to keep health records and healthcare delivery safe and seamless. Companies that provide these services will be the disruptors of the healthcare industry:
- Data drivers: Healthcare organizations that collect, connect, and secure health data are building an economic model around patient, population, institutional, and environmental data that will drive the future of health.
- Analytics gurus: Developers that create algorithms for health data are conducting research with AI analytics to find insights that humans can’t generate.
- Data and platform infrastructure builders: Healthcare companies that build infrastructure, interfaces, and platforms that enable efficient workflows and an optimal user experience will empower clinicians and their patients.
3. Consumer-Centric User Experience
Consumer-centric virtual care and digital care communities will engage patients who are already using artificial intelligence to research, diagnose, track, and report on their conditions and treatments. As telehealth usage increases, more competitors are entering the market. This means greater innovation and, often, vendor consolidation. Companies are now focusing on the user experience and using remote patient monitoring as a way to differentiate themselves.
Patients get tired of juggling different apps and websites just to access telemedicine. To get around this, companies are looking to provide virtual care via comprehensive services all in one place. This means implementing digital health via online portals that utilize technology like chatbots, video, calendar scheduling, and text messaging. These and other quality-of-life improvements are anticipated for both telehealth visits and outpatient visits.
4. Holistic Healthtech
Since patients will be more active partners and decision-makers, they’ll be more attuned to their own health information and act on it using these technologies:
In 2020, 41% of adults use voice search at least once per day and 62% of smart speaker owners say they’ll use voice search to make a purchase in the next month.
Health maintenance apps
According to Statista, the healthcare industry is one of the top 3 fields to accelerate the growth of mobile and remote patient monitoring devices like glucose monitors, blood pressure and heart rate trackers, urine sample analyzers, and even portable electrocardiogram machines.
A variety of healthcare industry players are already integrating wearable devices that track our steps, sleep patterns, and even heart rate into telehealth delivery — and there are more to come.
Medtech companies are putting always-on biosensors and software into remote patient monitoring devices that can generate, gather, and share data.
Artificial intelligence technology will soon be analyzing patients’ and providers’ parameters. With those in mind, they’ll create personalized health insights to monitor patient care and trigger real-time interventions to help patients reduce their risk of sickness and disease.
Consumers want their health information to be portable and interactive. They’ll vote with their wallets for healthcare industry transformations that mimic e-commerce and flexibility in other sectors. In fact, they’re already adopting these transformational telehealth tools.
Smartwatches, for example, collect and analyze patient data between outpatient visits or after surgery by providing valuable insights and patient care. They can inform treatment and streamline clinicians’ workflows. Activity trackers measure the amount of motion, activity patterns, and some features of movement (such as steps and intensity) in more detail than traditional step-counting pedometers.
The next generation of sensors will move patients from wearable devices to invisible, always-on sensors that are embedded in virtual care devices everywhere.
5. Increased Chronic Care Management
Telemedicine could not have come at a better time. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that approximately 133 million Americans are living with at least one chronic condition, which is any ailment requiring at least a year of ongoing medical care. These include heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis — and they’re tied to more than 80% of hospital admissions. These chronic conditions are typically not curable, but with the right patient care and artificial intelligence technology, they can be managed. In 2017, Americans spent over $3.5 trillion on chronic condition healthcare — that’s $10,739 for every person in the country.
Clinicians who specialize in cardiology, endocrinology, dermatology, and mental healthcare praise telehealth for its convenience and immediacy — no waiting rooms, long commutes, time off work, or child care searches that cause patients to miss outpatient visits.
Telehealth visits are ideal for patients managing chronic conditions since they need to check in with clinicians frequently. They also often require expensive treatments and medications, making telehealth a convenient way to reduce costs while still accessing quality care. As telehealth technology improves, more chronic care patients will likely take advantage of these virtual care services. Healthcare systems that enable this transition to telehealth will be those that embrace:
Healthcare for well-being
Specialist clinics and healthcare facilities will be joined by community health hubs, Virtual Care platforms, and app developers to drive customized healthcare that prioritizes prevention and well-being — on patients’ terms.
Health products innovators and manufacturers
What we consider telehealth products are no longer limited to pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Wellness products include digital platforms, artificial intelligence, applications, wearable devices, and even health-focused foods. Smart toilets with always-on sensors may test for nitrites, glucose, protein, and pH to detect infections, digestive disease, or pregnancy. Dermatology experts will use smart mirrors to distinguish a harmless mole from a melanoma. Smart toothbrushes’ breath biome sensors may detect genetic indicators of disease and prompt a telehealth visit.
Virtual health providers and wellness coaches
Virtual care providers and health product developers need support structures. Their communities could be geography- or condition-specific. Virtual care will now also require catering to their family members and support communities involved in care planning and delivery.
Specialty care providers and local health hubs
In 2040, though there will be some specialty centers, most healthcare will likely be delivered in local health hubs in retail settings with condition-specific facilities. These will be like shopping malls for education, prevention, and the treatment of most common conditions that will connect patients to virtual, home, and auxiliary wellness providers. Targeting these niche markets will require marketers to educate themselves on the ever-expanding array of services and health models.
6. Focus on mental health
More than 1 in 5 Americans have diagnosable mental disorders at some point in their lives, yet only about half of those individuals receive professional mental health medical care. This was partially due to the limited availability of mental health specialists in many regions. Now, telemedicine is expanding availability to anyone with an internet connection. Through virtual care, patients can access mental health resources — including counselors and psychiatrists — regardless of location. Some services even allow patients to fill prescriptions electronically.
Thanks to this convenience and increased mental health awareness, patients, clinicians, employers, and payers can expect the usage of these services to ramp up more every year.
According to MedPage Today, psychotherapy is the most common telehealth procedure. Among most regions of the U.S., with the exception of the West Coast, the most common diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder, making up nearly 30% of mental health claims. For the West, major depressive disorder had the highest diagnosis rate.
The data, collected monthly by FAIR Health — a New York City-based nonprofit specializing in health insurance data collection — the numbers jumped from 30% nationally in January 2020, to 51.3% in January 2021.
Forbes lists these recent innovations that are transforming the mental healthcare landscape:
In June 2020, the FDA approved the first prescription video game. EndeavorRX was designed for kids between the ages of 8 and 12 who are living with ADHD. By challenging them to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously, this game drives measurable mental health improvements within a game environment that feels like play.
- Artificial Intelligence and Smartphone-assisted therapy
AI-powered telehealth tools like chatbots can help patients practice cognitive behavior therapy strategies and manage symptoms between outpatient visits. Smartphone apps analyze a patient’s voice and speech patterns 24/7 for warning signs of emotional distress to alert clinicians that intervention is required.
Telehealth trends include Zoom sessions combined with real-time symptom tracking, app usage, and AI-driven messaging to support both patient care and clinicians’ workflows.
- Virtual Reality for Mental Health
As adoption expands, the cost of innovative VR therapies is going down. The Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network has published research suggesting that virtual reality tools can successfully treat depression, anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder — all of which have surged post-pandemic. This telehealth tool is already helping students with ADHD focus in VR classrooms and autistic people navigate stressful social situations like job interviews.
Approved by the FDA in 2017, digital pills contain a sensor that collects data. They allow clinicians to monitor medication compliance in real-time so psychiatric patients can reduce their risk of serious complications.
- Remote patient monitoring
Instead of sending mental health symptom data to an electronic health record, clinicians can leverage online symptom tracking that prompts patients to share data every day. Then an AI algorithm analyzes the data for warning signs and sends real-time alerts to clinicians to optimize mental health interventions. AI can help reduce clinician paperwork to generate real-time data streams. These can improve workflows and help clinicians react faster to alter treatment plans as needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced mental health specialists to adopt these telehealth tools, which are demonstrating the promise of better patient outcomes.
How your Care team can benefit from these telehealth trends
Clinicians and healthcare administrators will find that these benefits will improve their job satisfaction:
1. Improved access to care
Call centers and nurse advice lines have brought the most immediate telehealth benefits and challenges into the spotlight during the 2020 pandemic. The ability to treat minor COVID symptoms while the patient is comfortable and safe at home is critical. Throughout the pandemic, many patients have been wary of facilities and avoiding provider waiting rooms, so distanced diagnosis and prescription are a welcome relief.
For years, healthcare providers have struggled to provide adequate care for patients who:
- Need to be triaged
- Need to be treated by specialists at distant locations
- Live in rural areas
- Cannot travel to your facility
Once clinicians began leveraging these advantages, concerns about telehealth waned.
2. Higher patient engagement rates
Since consumers can get their shoes and dinner delivered with a tap, they expect the same from their healthcare providers. Online reviews, appointment booking, and digital reminders help patients engage in their care, relieving providers of mundane tasks that pull them away from patient care.
The most obvious advantage of virtual care? It reduces the risk of exposure as well as the anxiety around outpatient visits. It also reduces wait times so clinicians can treat and engage more patients every day.
3. Better patient outcomes
One of the most exciting benefits of telehealth for providers is a significant improvement in outcomes. Chronic condition care presents the perfect pairing for telehealth. Challenges around monitoring diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as musculoskeletal and behavioral health have been met with remote patient monitoring technology. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that telehealth clinical outcomes are as good or better than traditional on-site care outcomes.
But one of the most profound benefits of virtual care is its ability to protect patients who are at a higher risk for COVID complications. The logistical telehealth challenges some providers still cite seem less pressing when compared to the way it limits exposure to the virus.
4. Lower hospital readmission and no-show rates
Instead of making costly, unnecessary trips to an immediate care clinic or emergency room, patients with acute health issues can now get immediate care — without risking exposure to the virus.
Since post-discharge and follow-up care can be done virtually, patients take and implement instructions and prescriptions at their own pace. The new format also gives them more opportunities to raise questions or concerns using devices they’re comfortable with.
The patients who typically miss clinic appointments due to transportation issues, mobility challenges, or disabilities can now receive virtual care from any accessible location or device. They, too, are more likely to follow through with instructions and prescriptions on their own terms. This level of engagement keeps patients healthier and more vigilant, and more likely to seek intervention before their conditions reach critical stages.
Cost-cutting is one of the most well-researched advantages of telehealth. When you adopt telehealth at your hospital or clinic, you’ll lower your overhead and distribute resources more efficiently. You’ll also make your service hours more flexible, increasing motivation and productivity for clinicians while reducing stress for patients and clinicians.
According to a Health Finance News review of telehealth benefits and challenges, research has confirmed that Health Tech platforms enable quicker and more efficient care in lower-cost settings. It helps providers cut costs by reducing the time and distance required for treatment. When patients don’t skip visits, they’re less likely to wait until they’ve developed critical issues, which are much more costly to treat.
One of the less obvious telehealth benefits is the reduction of overused procedures like imaging. According to Diagnostic Imaging, electronic consultation between radiologists and referring physicians can reduce the need for unnecessary imaging exams.
Why your patients are jumping on these telehealth trends:
Understanding how convenience-driven patients search for healthcare is critical. According to SearchEngineLand:
- 77% of patients seek providers on search engines before booking an appointment
- 54% of patients want to use their smartphones to communicate with healthcare providers
- 88% of patients check online reviews to evaluate medical providers
- 45% make healthcare decisions based on information from social media
Patients may perceive telehealth benefits and challenges differently than a clinician does, but both enjoy the following benefits.
Research conducted by The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that virtual care clinical outcomes are as good or better than outcomes following outpatient visits. Chronic conditions like congestive heart failure, COPD, and diabetes yielded the most impactful telehealth benefits for patients since remote monitoring kept them abreast of warning signals.
Immediacy and accessibility
Mental healthcare also showed improvement when behavioral therapy and psychotherapy were administered on the patient’s terms. One of the benefits of virtual care is that its immediacy, accessibility, and monitoring consistency help curb risky behavior, improving patients’ perceptions of provider support and inspiring trust.
The agency also found that 21 studies reported significantly lower complications when implementing remote ICUs — some even reported lower mortality rates when using remote ICUs. Telehealth tools that allow images or data to be quickly shared and interpreted (like EKGs and EEGs) produced positive results and fewer care plan complications. Fewer heart attack patients died when consultations based on health tech data were provided to EMS Care teams in the field or during transport.
Learn more about today’s innovative telehealth trends
These exciting healthcare innovations do take time to implement and optimize, especially for Care teams with technology-averse clinicians who may have a longer learning curve or who may need to see more research in order to fully understand the value of the telehealth trends. To learn about how they can improve your team’s workflows and job satisfaction, read our Telehealth Guide.