No doubt telemedicine got a big boost from the COVID pandemic. At its peak, the pandemic had primary care offices and hospitals shut down from coast to coast. People had no choice but to use telemedicine solutions if they wanted healthcare services from their doctors. Now however, telemedicine seems to have slowed considerably. But make no mistake, it is not dead.
A Boston Globe piece from early April 2022 suggests that telemedicine grew by some 8000% in 2019 and 2020, fueled mainly by a spike in telemedicine services during the early months of the pandemic. The Globe says that telemedicine use dropped by two-thirds in 2021. And yet, it is now on an upward trajectory again. So what’s the deal?
1. Growth by Necessity
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Likewise, necessity is often the mother of adoption. Many of the technologies that fueled telemedicine’s astronomical rise two years ago had already been around for more than a decade. Some of the technologies were even older than that. The healthcare sector had just failed to adopt them to that point.
Simply put, telemedicine boomed during the pandemic because it had to. It represented the most immediate and effective way to continue delivering basic healthcare services even while doctors’ offices and hospitals remain shuttered. Yet doctors and nurses were not frothing at the mouth to get their hands on telemedicine solutions. Many went along with it begrudgingly.
In 2022, a lot has changed. Healthcare providers are up and running at full speed again. Hospital doors are open and primary care offices are once again seeing a steady stream of patients. That accounts for the significant drop off in 2021. But why is telemedicine on the upswing again? Because it works.
2. Starting to Figure It Out
The Boston Globe piece mentions five factors that may have led to healthcare providers relying less on telemedicine in 2021. But all five are slowly becoming non-factors as providers are figuring things out. For example, the first factor mentioned by the Globe is that doctors still don’t quite know the best way to utilize telemedicine. When is it appropriate versus inappropriate?
That sort of thing is figured out with practice. It is like anything else in the medical profession. Doctors are not experts in the bedside manner within that first year following residency. Perfecting one’s bedside manner takes years. Likewise, it will take time for doctors to figure out the best way to utilize telemedicine. They are already moving in that direction.
3. Diagnostics Are the Key
The other four factors mentioned by the Globe are Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements, licensing and jurisdiction, equitable access, and the potential for fraud. All are issues that have to be addressed legally and politically. Only the first one can be addressed by the healthcare industry exclusively. Diagnostics are the key to it.
A lack of diagnostic capabilities gives many doctors and advanced practice nurses pause about using telemedicine solutions. According to CSI Health, on-board diagnostics have been a real challenge for telemedicine companies from the start. But CSI and their competitors are working hard to change that.
The modern telemedicine kiosk goes well beyond heart rate monitor and blood pressure cuff. On-board diagnostics run the gamut from ECG to sonogram and glucometer. Each device generates data clinicians can view in real time. That changes the game entirely.
Telemedicine may have slowed down since the peak of the COVID pandemic, but it has not died. It will someday be as mainstream as the office visit. In the meantime, it will surely be fun watching its evolution.