Until recent years, making a doctor’s appointment meant taking time off work and heading into the office, waiting in a crowded lobby while you collect every single virus and germ in the room, and spending a few minutes with the doctor and the rest of the time talking to nurses or receptionists. Recent trends have pushed many specialties in the sector toward telemedicine — remote appointments carried out over video chat. Doctors can stay in their offices and patients can get the help they need from the comfort of their own home. While it will never be a replacement for in-office visits and care for some patients, for others it can be a valuable tool to help them get the care they need without having to leave the house.
Recent trends have seen telemedicine expanding even further. How will this aspect of the industry continue to expand and grow in 2020?
Technology Continues to Advance
Ten years ago, telemedicine wasn’t even an option because technology hadn’t advanced to a point that would allow you to speak to doctors in real time from the comfort of your own home. Today, as technology continues to grow and improve, telemedicine is going to become more accessible to patients around the globe.
Healthcare apps and teledoc programs are becoming more user-friendly with every passing year. Where you may have needed a computer with a webcam and mic a few years ago, today you may be able to make an appointment with a virtual doctor, talk to a professional and even get a prescription sent to your local pharmacy with nothing more than the smartphone in your pocket and an insurance or debit card to handle the cost. Plus, telemedicine means that you’re not stuck taking time off work because telemedicine allows you to get the help you need on your schedule.
People Are Embracing Telemedicine
Patients aren’t the only ones who are excited about the possibilities presented by telemedicine as the technology continues to grow. More insurance companies than ever are covering telemedicine appointments and encouraging policyholders to use them in place of more traditional office visits. In 2018, telemedicine appointments weren’t covered by Medicare. Now they are, and 34 states have laws on the books mandating that private insurance companies cover the cost of telemedicine appointments the same way they would for in-person visits.
Doctors are embracing this technology as well. According to a survey by American Well, between 2015 and 2018, the number of physicians offering telemedicine services jumped by an astonishing 340%. There’s also strong consumer demand for this type of technology that will continue to fuel growth in the years to come. Of those surveyed, 77% of patients said that they would consider seeing a virtual doctor for things that don’t require an in-office visit or to determine if more action should be taken.
Telemedicine Specialties Will Continue To Grow
Telemedicine may have started out as a tool for general practitioners but it isn’t going to stay there. Specialties will continue to grow in the coming years. If you’ve ever neglected to make an appointment with a dermatologist because of embarrassment or any other reason, telemedicine is the perfect solution. You can send a picture or video of the affected area to a virtual dermatologist and they can tell you whether you need to seek out additional help or just need a prescription for a cream that they can call in for you remotely.
Psychiatry usually doesn’t require you to be physically in the office, since most of the diagnosis in that field is done through conversation. Pediatricians can offer advice and help to frantic parents who have a child with a high fever late at night when all the doctor’s offices are closed for the day. Even fields that have been traditionally considered ‘hands-on’ like cardiology, neurology and obstetrics/gynecology can all be carried out virtually thanks to remote monitoring equipment.
Graduating Physicians Are Getting Trained in Telemedicine
Graduating physicians are among those leading the charge when it comes to bringing telemedicine into the mainstream. From the beginning of their education, these budding doctors and nurses are being taught how to adopt and employ telemedicine in their daily practice. These physicians are part of the generation that’s grown up with technology as an enormous part of their lives, so it makes sense that adopting new advancements like telemedicine would be second nature to them.
Learning how to deliver helpful care in a virtual appointment is an entirely different skill set than the ones they might learn for taking care of in-office patients. Some professionals have taken to calling it ‘webside manner’ instead of bedside manner, and new physicians are all being taught these skills as part of their regular curriculums. This isn’t to say that established physicians can’t learn these webside manner skills, but new professionals are coming into the field with a distinct advantage.
Telemedicine in Pandemic Conditions
We’re facing an unprecedented chain of events as the entire world faces the COVID-19 global pandemic. The virus is spreading and people are afraid, have questions, and may not want to leave their homes to get them answered. Officials are urging people who have symptoms of the virus to avoid going to the doctor’s office to keep them from spreading it, which means many people are turning to telemedicine appointments to try and get the help that they need.
Many insurance providers are offering telemedicine appointments for free for those that need to be screened for the virus, but the screenings can still be costly for those without insurance. Still, in the age of pandemic fears and social distancing, telemedicine will become one of our most valuable tools in our fight against the virus and the fear that surrounds it.
Looking Toward The Future
A decade ago, telemedicine appointments were something that only existed in science fiction stories. Today, they stand to become as common as in-office appointments and they will continue to grow and thrive in the coming years.