In recent years, there has been a rise in the use of telehealth services. This is likely due to the many advantages that telehealth offers. For example, patients can receive care from the comfort of their own homes, and they don’t have to take time off work or school to go to appointments.
According to a report by Grand View Research, the global telehealth market is expected to grow at a rate of 36.5% within the next six years—and it already has a market size of more than 62 billion.
So what exactly is telehealth, and is it right for you? Understanding the benefits and statistics related to this unique form of medicine may help you make a decision so that you can stay healthy – and well informed – no matter what comes your way.
Let’s take a closer look.
- Telehealth has been rising in popularity for several years, but with the stressors placed upon the healthcare system related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it became a popular method of administering healthcare.
- More than 85% of physicians use telehealth services in some form.
- While there is some discrepancy in telehealth use and effectiveness among demographics and types of service (chronic disease management, medication management, etc.) it proves to be a promising modality of healthcare that will likely prevail long into the future.
What Is Telehealth?
In recent years, telehealth has become an increasingly popular option for patients seeking healthcare services. But what exactly is telehealth?
Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Telehealth includes a broad range of technologies such as live video conferencing, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and mobile health applications.
In short, telehealth allows patients to receive healthcare services from a distance.
Let’s take a closer look at these four main types of telehealth services.
- Live video conferencing: Live video conferencing allows patients to consult with their providers in real-time via two-way video chat. This is the most common type of telehealth service.
- Store-and-forward imaging: Store-and-forward imaging allows providers to send patient images (e.g., X-rays, ultrasounds) to specialists for interpretation. The specialist can then provide a formal consultation back to the referring provider.
- Remote patient monitoring: Remote patient monitoring (RPM) involves the use of technology to collect patient data from a distance and transmit that data back to a provider on a regular basis. RPM is often used with chronic disease management. For example, patients with heart conditions might use RPM devices to monitor their heart rate and blood pressure at home on a daily basis; this data would then be transmitted electronically to their cardiologist who could make necessary adjustments to their care plan based on the collected data.
- Mobile health applications: Mobile health apps are general wellness and fitness applications that can be used by anyone with a smartphone or tablet. These apps fall into two main categories: those that provide educational information about healthy living and those that track fitness progress or other health data (American Heart Association, 2018).
There is often confusion between the terms telehealth and telemedicine. While they are similar, there are some important distinctions between the two.
Telemedicine generally refers to the direct provision of medical care by a physician to a patient using telecommunications technology. This might include a consultation with a specialist or remote monitoring of a patient’s vital signs.
Telehealth, on the other hand, is a broader term that can refer to any type of healthcare provision that uses technology, including non-clinical services such as appointment scheduling and health education. Telehealth is now the preferred term (versus telemedicine) to refer to any kind of health or medical-related care that is administered electronically, since it is a more holistic and inclusive term that encompasses every aspect of overall wellness.
Why Use Telehealth?
There are many reasons why people choose to use telehealth services: Some people live in rural areas where access to healthcare providers is limited; others have busy schedules that make it difficult to take time off for doctor’s appointments; still others have chronic conditions that require frequent check-ins with their providers but do not warrant hospitalization.
Whatever the reason, telehealth provides patients with greater access to quality care.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Telehealth
The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the way we live and work. Perhaps one of the most significant changes has been in the area of healthcare. In an effort to contain the spread of the virus, many doctors’ offices and hospitals have postponed elective procedures and closed their doors to non-emergency patients. This left many people wondering how they could access the care they need.
Enter telehealth. Telehealth is the use of electronic communications to provide medical services and information from a distance. It has been used for years to provide care to patients in remote areas who might not otherwise have access to a doctor. However, with the outbreak of Covid-19, telehealth became a viable option for many more people.
About 85% of physicians who responded to an American Medical Association survey in 2021 report that they now use telehealth, with 60% of them agreeing that this service allows them to provide higher quality care. 93% are conducting live, interactive video visits, with a smaller percentage only using audio.
There was a significant jump in the use of telehealth between February and April 2020, the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with rates for telehealth services 78 times higher in April than they were in February.
More than half of all respondents indicate that telehealth has dramatically improved their satisfaction with work. Because of this, as well as the ability of telehealth to significantly lower costs, most are interested in sustaining telehealth practices even though the pandemic has begun to wane.
Telehealth Statistics By Service
As the healthcare industry rapidly evolves to match the rise in technology, more and more telehealth services are being offered. Here are some of the most common services patients can access via telehealth, with their related statistics to give you an idea of how frequently they are utilized.
The following statistics are provided courtesy of the previously referenced study by the American Medical Association in 2021.
One of the most popular services accessed through telehealth is medication management. With this service, you can have your medications delivered straight to your door. You can also schedule regular check-ins with your provider to make sure that your medications are working as intended and that you are taking them correctly. This service is especially beneficial for those who have chronic conditions or take multiple medications.
About 72% of physicians use telehealth for chronic disease management, making this the most common area where telehealth is being utilized.
Chronic Disease Management
If you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, telehealth can help you manage your condition. You can receive education and support from your care team, track your symptoms and progress, and receive reminders for medication and appointments.
About 68% of physicians use telehealth for chronic disease management.
If you need to see a specialist but don’t want to leave the house, you can access specialty care through telehealth. With this service, you can connect with specialists in fields such as dermatology, mental health, and more. You can also receive second opinions on diagnoses and treatment plans. This service is convenient and can save you time and money.
About 49% of physicians use telehealth for specialty care.
If you have a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, telehealth can provide you with counseling and therapy services from the comfort of your own home. You can also participate in group therapy sessions and connect with other people who have similar conditions.
About 44% of physicians use telehealth for mental and behavioral health services.
Acute Care/Urgent Care/Same Day
Acute care/urgent care/same day services can also be accessed with telehealth. If you have a minor illness or injury, such as a cold or the flu, you can consult with a doctor or nurse via video conferencing to get the treatment you need.
About 37% of physicians use telehealth for acute care, urgent care, and same-day services.
Preventative Care or Primary Care
Telehealth can also be used for preventative care or primary care. You can receive routine checkups, screenings, and immunizations without having to leave home. And if you do need to see a specialist, your primary care provider can coordinate your care using telehealth.
About 37% of physicians use telehealth for preventative care or primary care services.
If you have multiple providers, it can be difficult to keep track of all of your appointments and make sure that everyone is on the same page. With care coordination, you can have all of your providers in one place so that they can easily communicate with each other. This service can save you time and ensure that everyone involved in your care is up-to-date on your health.
About 36% of physicians use telehealth for care coordination.
Hospital or ED Follow-Up Care
Hospital or ED follow-up care can be done via telehealth. After being discharged from the hospital, you can follow up with your doctor using video conferencing to make sure your recovery is on track.
About 33% of physicians use telehealth for hospital or ED follow-up care.
Acute Care Inpatient
If you or a loved one needs to be hospitalized, telehealth can help! With this service, you can have face-to-face visits with your provider, even if they are not at the same hospital as you are. This service is convenient and helps to improve communication between patients and providers.
About 13% of physicians use telehealth for acute care inpatient services.
There are plenty of other potential applications for telehealth services that aren’t detailed on this list—and the list continues to grow.
About 5% of physicians utilize telehealth services for other purposes not specified above.
Who’s Using Telehealth Services?
Telehealth services are becoming more and more popular, but who is actually using them? You might be surprised to learn that it’s not just older adults or people with chronic health conditions who are taking advantage of virtual care.
Are They Using Audio/Video or Audio Only?
Telehealth services are generally available via video and audio. Both offer distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Adults over 65 years old most often used audio-only telehealth services, while those under 65 were more likely to use video-enabled visits. That’s likely connected to the fact that 26% of Medicare beneficiaries lack access to smartphones, laptops, or desktops. A lack of technological literacy could be part of the reason for this discrepancy, too.
Medicare and Telehealth
Medicare visits through telehealth increased 63-fold, growing from 84,000 to 52.7 million during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth use for low-income beneficiaries who were enrolled both in Medicaid and Medicare was higher than for beneficiaries with only Medicare.
The states with the highest level of Medicare telehealth use are Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut. The states where individuals were least likely to use telehealth in 2020 were Tennessee, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
Is Telehealth Effective?
As the world becomes increasingly connected, telehealth is emerging as a popular way to receive medical care. Telehealth has been shown to be an effective way to provide medical care.
To back up these claims, let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
In the 2021 AMA survey cited above, 62% of physicians agreed or strongly agreed that their patients are more satisfied since using telehealth. More than 80% agree that their patients have better access to care.
What’s more, more than 50% of physicians claim that telehealth has increased their professional satisfaction, helping to reduce burnout and diminish some of the problems related to the physician shortage that’s plaguing the nation.
As for the clinical outcomes of telehealth, areas that saw moderate-to-high confidence that the evidence reflected the true effect of telehealth included:
- Better healing and fewer amputations in wound care practices (moderate confidence)
- Better access in terms of time to or comprehensiveness of service was improved with telehealth (moderate confidence)
- Positive effects on clinical outcomes such as response to treatment (moderate confidence)
- Decrease in symptoms and high remission rates in psychiatry services (moderate confidence)
Telehealth services offer many advantages over in-person care. They are convenient, flexible, and can be done from anywhere with an internet connection. If you’re looking for a more convenient way to receive healthcare, consider using one of the many telehealth services available today.