A couple weeks ago, Jon spoke to one of the big questions he had been hearing around telemedicine and COVID-19. In the weeks since Jon’s blog, another big question has continued to dominate the national dialogue. Below, I give you my take.
Is this just a flash in the pan for telemedicine, or an indication of the new normal going forward?
The COVID-19 pandemic and mandatory social distancing have given people a look at a world where healthcare truly integrates technology. You can’t tell someone the only way to get care is to make an appointment weeks or months out, take time off work, drive across town, and sit in a waiting room—when they’ve already experienced there is another way.
Let’s look at another industry–equally grounded by privacy and security concerns–that made a similar transition: banking. It’s hard to believe that not long ago you had to go into your bank for every interaction. Yet today none of us would open or hold an account with a bank that didn’t offer online banking, the freedom to transfer money digitally, or the ability to deposit a check with just a picture from your phone. We need access to our finances at all hours of the day. Life doesn’t stop because our branch location isn’t open. With banks, like with healthcare, there is still a necessity for brick-and-mortar locations (withdrawing cash, signing a mortgage, or taking out a loan). But digital tools have become a part of our experience and no one would accept going backwards. Similarly, we need access to healthcare at all hours of the day. So with healthcare, we’re going to start to see those lines of virtual and in-person care start to shift.
Telehealth has been around for decades. It is the unfortunate education from a global pandemic that’s moved it to the masses. As we move beyond the initial wave of virtual care visits for COVID19, we see the shift taking place into a new reality. To put this into context, consider the data for non-COVID-19 visit volume. These are visits for things like behavioral health, acne, sleep, bladder infections, etc. That visit volume is up 2-5x across our health system partners. It shows providers have incorporated virtual care across their service lines. It also shows that consumers are quickly getting on board with a new way of care—one that is connected with their local health system, is safe, efficient, and accessible at a place and time that works for them.
It’s safe to say that the train is leaving the station, virtual care is on it and it’s not coming back.