Four telehealth use cases to watch for in 2022 and beyond
It’s been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic opened the telehealth floodgates. Future reimbursement regulations remain unclear, but one can imagine a not-so-distant future where a sizable portion of virtual visits are scheduled out of choice rather than necessity.
While the possibilities are many, below are four types of visits that the advancement of telehealth will likely transform in the coming years.
Prenatal and postpartum care
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pregnant women should have at least eight contacts, or “active connections,” with their providers to reduce perinatal mortality. When clinically appropriate, virtual visits give expecting mothers more flexibility and convenience by eliminating the need to travel and take time away from work and other responsibilities for all of these appointments.
After birth, as many as 40% of new moms do not attend a postpartum visit. Telehealth can help narrow this gap by providing greater access to care during this critical period. Given the relatively poor maternal mortality rates in the U.S., telehealth may be one part of a solution to this complex, devastating trend.
Pre- and post-operative care
Non-urgent and elective surgeries were some of the first visits to be postponed at the beginning of the pandemic. Ironically, pre- and post-operative visits, in many cases, are well-suited for telehealth. Educating patients remotely before procedures has several benefits. For example, patients in rural locations may live dozens of miles from major surgical centers, making in-person visits particularly burdensome. Additionally, virtual visits can make it easier for a patient’s loved ones to participate in their care and prepare to act as caregivers during the patient’s recovery.
On the post-operative side, conducting follow-ups via telehealth means patients can avoid potential exposure to infection as well as discomfort worsened by traveling to healthcare facilities and sitting in waiting rooms. One survey of gallbladder and appendix surgery patients suggests patient satisfaction with this use case is high: 79% of those that had video-based visits said they would choose this visit type for future post-surgical follow-ups.
Ongoing care needs
Approximately 60% of adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chronic diseases account for an enormous portion of healthcare costs in the U.S., and provider organizations will shoulder more of that burden as value-based care grows. Offering virtual visits, as applicable, for patients with chronic conditions can give providers more touchpoints to answer patients’ questions about their care plans, promote medication adherence and provide additional guidance to keep patients out of high-cost care settings like the emergency department (ED). In a survey commissioned by the Bipartisan Policy Center, 47% of U.S. adults say they are likely to use telehealth for routine chronic illness visits if their providers offer them in the future, and 71% are likely to use telehealth for prescription refills. Telehealth will not be a panacea for chronic disease management, but the potential for this technology to improve health outcomes at scale is promising, nonetheless.
Mental and behavioral health
This list would not be complete without discussing mental and behavioral health. 2021 data from Mental Health America analysis shows that nearly 25% of adults with a mental illness in the U.S. were not able to receive needed treatment. In addition to cost and coverage barriers, a shortage of mental health professionals was identified as a major contributing factor. Telehealth cannot completely solve this issue, but it can certainly help more patients get the services they need and reduce geographic-based access limitations (as reimbursement and licensing requirements allow). Plus, some patients may be more comfortable holding these appointments in familiar, safe environments.
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