Did you know that the global telehealth market size is projected to increase from $25.4 Billion in 2020 to $55.6 Billion by 2025? That’s huge, right? Well, this exponential growth is all due to the rising population, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and the shortage of medical services.
Although, virtual health technology is not new, yet is celebrated as a game-changer in the healthcare industry. But it took more than a decade for health service providers, payers, and consumers to adopt the technology than was anticipated. It’s the global pandemic that has pushed health care sectors and patients over the tipping point into widespread adoption of virtual health beyond traditional applications.
How COVID-19 Is Shaping The Future Of Virtual Healthcare?
While the entire scientific community is working towards employing effective vaccines and therapeutics. The major focus remains the ‘fundamental public health measures’ which include personal hygiene and social distancing. This is yet certainly the old-fashioned response, but the deployment of digital health technologies has already been leveraged in countries like China to accelerate and optimize health care services.
Being the very first country hit by the outbreak, China introduced a wide array of digital solutions throughout the different stages of the pandemic. As the COVID-19 continues, a Case Study of China’s Digital Experience may offer useful test cases for other countries to fight effectively against the outbreak.
How Did China Respond To The Immediate Outbreak?
Public health measures such as Contact Tracing, Testing & Surveillance helped keep the outbreak within a manageable scale. A dedicated application for general public use was introduced that helped people to trace if they were ever near any COVID-19 case in the past two weeks. The application was designed and developed using the data crawled from websites and social media platforms where information on active cases could be found. Later, the system became more reliable after developers were able to aggregate data from all kinds of public surveillance and national transportation authorities and other institutions.
Further, the public was better informed about the disease through the app and what precautions should be taken to safeguard themselves and their surroundings.
Another less-popular but notable application among health service providers were used to improve the diagnostic accuracy. Major hospitals deployed AI-powered CT imaging interpretation tools that help doctors to reduce the entire CT Scanning duration from hours to just a few seconds. In addition to this, several other tools were also available to community clinics that helped patients to get their CT Scan done by medical experts’ miles away.
The role of digital health technology continues to evolve with the ‘Traffic-light styled Health Code’ where people were assigned a red-amber-green color based on their health status. (This was done, using self-reported body temperature and listing COVI-D19 symptoms & through digitally determined contact history of the person). The application was later adopted by over 900 million people, worldwide, since it has the potential to drive continuous disease surveillance, contact tracing, and local risk assessment.
How Did China Respond During The Lockdown?
Since the majority of the health institutions were closed completely due to safety concerns and capacity issues, regular check-ups at hospitals and pharmacies became difficult. Patients suffering from chronic diseases (who tend to have a greater risk of falling critically ill, if infected) hesitated to visit hospitals.
Thankfully, health organizations recognized this issue and released a series of policies to promote telemedicine among everyone. Online consultation services were boosted at peak, as a part of ‘Internet + Healthcare’ at your fingertips. This certainly resolved major issues like (physical barrier, to get the prescriptions & financial barrier from timely reimbursement). Over time, telemedicine also promoted mental health support through a variety of online platforms.
2020, undoubtedly turned out to be the decade where digital technology widely reshaped the health industry. Virtual Health adoption certainly created lots of opportunities for a variety of providers to attract patients with new service offerings, built throughout with high-quality providers. Some of the examples of virtual health move include:
- Regional health systems providing virtual specialist visits and tele-ICU coverage in collaboration with rural health corporations to extend the access of services.
- AMC (Academic Medical Center) providing virtual specialty care for consumers from different geo-location who prefer travel for care.
- Regional health systems providing both primary & specialty care through physical and virtual applications.
Indeed, nearly half (48%) of health centres have enhanced the scope of services available via virtual care, during the pandemic. Over 57% of them are expected to keep these services permanently. Health organizations are keen to proffer a multitude of virtual health care services, including Chronic Condition Management, Behavioural Health, Physical Therapy, and so on.
Demand For Virtual Mental Health Care Is Significantly Soaring: Check Out The Key Trends!
Well, a significant number of Teletherapy providers have seen a record-breaking uptake since March 2020, specifically, the need for mental health care appears to be exponentially growing as individuals are confronting the pandemic stress & financial/social crisis.
Here are some notable trends before & during COVID-19:
Adoption of Virtual Mental Health Care:
- Before COVID-19, Telehealth adoption (in psychiatry) was 80%, while the percentage jumped to a whopping 96% during the Move-in the growing lockdown.
- 100% of those admitted a willingness to use telehealth during and post COVID-19.
- 62% of individuals stated, ‘they would prefer a virtual meeting for their regular mental health care check-ups than meeting their therapist or psychologist in person.’
- Following the onset of COVID-19, firms have ramped up their investments:
- By 2040, tons of health services will ditch traditional applications and adopt virtual settings for giving treatments & care.
- mHealth is the new horizon for achieving improved health goals through mobile technologies.
- From educating & training healthcare workers to planning new medical procedures for treating a variety of health issues and conditions, both AR/VR seems promising.
Move-in the Type of Diagnoses (Post COVID-19):
- Growing rate of substance abuse in Women rose to 38% as compared to 2019, which was 24%.
- Men are seeking care at a higher rate for family and relationship issues than women, with yearly visits up to 5.5 times (in men) as compared to 4.2 times (in women).
- Gen Z and teens have seen an increase in anxiety issues, comprising 58% since March.
Other Notable Statistics:
- Till the end of July, there was an increase of 20% of night time conversations with coaches and therapists between 10 PM to 6 AM. Indicating the subject related to stress, anxiety, and sleep disruption.
- Throughout the pandemic from March to July 2020, the proportion of individuals at a risk for clinical depression ranges from 46% to 61%, A whopping rise of up to a 90% increase in depression rates was witnessed as compared to the same population just before the pandemic.
Virtual Health Care VS Telehealth VS Telemedicine
The terms ‘Virtual Health Care’, ‘Telehealth’ & ‘Telemedicine’ is often used interchangeably. But there are some significant differences between each of them.
|Virtual Health Care
|Definition: Virtual Care is a wide term that comprises all the ways and methods health care providers remotely interact with the patients.
|Definition: The term Telehealth is an all-encompassing one. It is referred specifically to providing both remote clinical and non-clinical services.
|Definition: Telemedicine is a subset of Telehealth that refers dedicatedly to the provision of health care services and education virtually.
Challenges Faced By Virtual Healthcare
While there are several advantages to this emerging technology, there are tons of issues that can cause a lot of problems for the patients and providers.
- Failure inaccurate diagnosis
Without adequate assessments, healthcare workers may not properly diagnose a patient. Depending on the less time for evaluating patients, their medical history and current complaints, may lead to the wrong diagnosis. This is a huge failure when it comes to treating severe health conditions such as heart attack, cancer, and so on.
- Communication issues
Doctors or caregivers who do not listen properly may fail to note minor complaints which might lead to serious issues in the future. Health workers who have weak Internet connection or server problems may cut a session short, leaving the patient without asking some important questions.
- Needs Smart Devices
It is certainly not necessary that both the patients and healthcare workers have devices that can support these services. It might be a little shocking to believe, but, 19% of Americans don’t have a smartphone. Means, until and unless a patient can afford or borrow a device from reliable sources, they simply can’t have access to any of the virtual health care services.
- Equipment malfunction
Well, remotely monitoring patients through interconnected devices can effectively help virtual doctors to receive essential medical data. However, if the equipment is flawed, important details may not be transmitted properly. Hence, incorrect readings can influence doctors to believe in a problem when there is not one.
- Decrease in human interaction
Since, there’s no long-term doctor-patient relationship, a significant increase in the risk of error in clinical services is high. In case the consultation is delivered by an inexperienced professional, chances of incorrect diagnoses and confidential medical information leaks can persist.
- Generational differences
One of the most prominent reasons why the Healthcare industry is expanding is because of a push from Gen Z and their values towards the sector. Technology is certainly their second language. But what about the older generation? They struggle a lot with technology since they don’t use it frequently. This is a palpable barrier for elderly patients to use virtual health care services.
- Patient Data’s Security
Conducting medical assessments digitally certainly adds a security risk to a patient’s set of information. Since everything can be hacked, if cybercriminals get access to these accounts, they might get their hands on all the users’ medical records. Hence, operating virtual health care services online needs more security measures & protection.
- Requires strong legal regulation
This is essential to prevent unauthorized and illegal service providers from entering the healthcare industry. Fulfilling all the legal licensing procedures can be a cumbersome process for healthcare workers.
- Care Delays
What if a person needs emergency care? Accessing telemedicine at the first stage may delay the entire treatment process. This is specific for the cases when virtual doctors cannot provide a list of saving care or laboratory tests digitally.
Still, most of you might agree with the fact that there are more advantages for these services than the listed disadvantages. But, most of the negatives would soon be resolved with emerging technologies in near future. This will surely change the entire landscape of the modern-day healthcare industry!
Over the last couple of years, Virtual Health Care has proven to be life-saving countless times. Not only, during the global pandemic but also during natural disasters and other emergencies. Hence, Virtual Health Care, Telehealth & Telemedicine is here to stay. Specifically, for healthcare workers, this is certainly a way to provide secure and safe patient care, while reducing the costs.
So, what’s your take on the future of Virtual Health Care and the Contribution of Telemedicine in the industry? Shoot your insights in the comments section below!