In 2020, there has been an enormous and unprecedented demand for telehealth services. There are a number of drivers fueling that adoption rate, some of which should come as no surprise, while others are less expected.

(To help healthcare providers take advantage of telehealth benefits, we’re offering RingCentral Office for free.)

Read on to learn the top eight drivers of telehealth services adoption in 2020.

1. A public health crisis

The public health crisis that started earlier in 2020 has by far been the biggest driver of telehealth services adoption. In 2019, 11 percent of Americans used telehealth services; a consumer survey by McKinsey at the end of April 2020 showed that 46 percent of American consumers were using telehealth to replace canceled healthcare visits.

Analysts at McKinsey and other firms question whether telehealth services will remain as popular after the crisis abates. However, it’s important to note that there are other drivers that are contributing to telehealth’s prevalence, and those show no sign of going away.

2. Patients want telehealth services

If there hadn’t been a public health crisis that erupted in 2020, perhaps the rates of adoption wouldn’t be quite so high. However, the rates would still be rising. One of the reasons for that is because patients want providers to offer telehealth services.

According to recent research, 77 percent of patients are open to using telehealth services. Moreover, they don’t feel as though they’re sacrificing anything by using telehealth instead of having an in-person visit with their provider. In fact, 88 percent of patients believe that a virtual appointment is just as good as a face-to-face one.

3. Telehealth services are convenient

Why do patients want telehealth services? They’re convenient.

Millennials are the most interested in telehealth because of its convenience—almost three-quarters of 18–34 year-olds and 72 percent of 35–44 year-olds are willing to use it. However, Millennials aren’t the only ones who see telehealth benefits; 73 percent of seniors say they would use telehealth services, with 67 percent wanting to use it for chronic health issues.

4. Telehealth is cost-effective

Another of telehealth’s benefits is that it’s cost-effective for patients, providers, and payers. Consider the patients first: for many patients, visiting a physician means taking time off work. Rural patients not only have to take time off of work, but they also may need to travel. Those costs add up, averaging $24,000 for travel costs and $16,769 for lost wages.

For providers, there are three telehealth benefits: fewer no-shows, lower hospital readmissions, and lower cost of appointments. With a telehealth business model, more patients attend virtual appointments, helping providers avoid their share of the $150 billion that the healthcare industry loses each year to no-shows. Thanks to greater continuity of care, patients avoid costly hospital readmissions. Additionally, healthcare facilities save money. A major medical center reported savings of $86.64 every time a patient chose telehealth services over a visit to the ER.

Payers also see savings thanks to telehealth. The typical cost of a telehealth visit is $50; the weighted average cost is $176 for alternative care sites. That’s a savings of $126.

5. Physicians want telehealth services

The cost-effectiveness and convenience of a telehealth business model appeal to providers, too. More and more physicians are offering telehealth services. Between 2016 and 2019, telehealth visits doubled, going from 14 to 28 percent.

There are clear telehealth benefits for providers. Telehealth visits eliminate the spread of germs. Moreover, they allow providers to see high-risk patients in-office, while lower-risk patients can stay home and avoid getting others in the waiting room sick.

6. Telehealth services enhance care coordination

It takes a team to help a single patient. Complex health needs, or even something as seemingly straightforward as recovery from surgery, mean that more than one provider is involved in a patient’s care. To protect the patient, that care must be coordinated.

Telehealth services make care coordination easier by enabling members of a care team to hold video conferences and chats to discuss a patient’s situation. For example, a diabetic patient’s endocrinologist could discuss the patient’s medication with his or her primary care physician, and loop in the physical therapist who’s helping the patient after a foot injury.

7. Telehealth services bridge the rural gap

As mentioned earlier, rural patients face barriers to healthcare access. Their providers typically don’t work near where they live, and the costs to take time off work and travel to their healthcare providers are high.

Providers who adopt a telehealth business model can better serve these patients. By meeting via phone or video conference, rural patients can connect with their providers to get the care they need.

Download RingCentral’s Guide to telehealth in rural America

8. Regulatory changes make telehealth more attractive

The public health crisis has led to a change in regulations that makes it easier for providers to offer telehealth services and for payers to fund them. Previously, government regulations made it difficult (as well as undesirable) for providers and payers. However, with the need to reduce exposure to germs as well as shortages of personal protective equipment, the government is actually encouraging telehealth.

The CARES Act encourages the use of a telehealth business model. Additionally, Medicare reimburses providers for virtual appointments, even if they don’t live in a rural area, and if they are newer patients. HIPAA restrictions have also been loosened so that the use of non-HIPAA-compliant technologies won’t lead to penalties.

(Pro tip: Choosing a telehealth technology that’s HITRUST CSF-certified allows you to remain HIPAA compliant while giving your patients peace of mind that you’re protecting their confidential information.)

Telehealth services are becoming a fixture within the healthcare industry landscape. The right telehealth technology enables you to meet current and future demands.  

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