MeMD Shares Outlook on Care Delivery, New Technologies and Federal Policy
Telehealth has long been recognized as a cost-effective, high-quality and highly convenient model of healthcare delivery, but it took a pandemic to bring virtual care to the forefront. It has now reached an inflection point, changing and modernizing the way Americans access care.
Beyond the benefits for consumers, it has also emerged as a powerful tool for employers in curbing healthcare costs. Telehealth has become an essential part of the healthcare system – and the best is yet to come.
Here are the top six ways telehealth will shape U.S. healthcare in 2021 and beyond:
1. Telehealth will be the first step.
Amid COVID-19, consumers have become accustomed to ease, convenience and immediacy in healthcare. Now, telehealth will be their first stop for care. Patients will take their rightful place at the center of the healthcare experience and will access services on their terms, whether via video visits, phone consultations or even text conversations with providers.
2. Employers will transition to holistic benefit packages.
Companies will seek out holistic telehealth services as part of a workforce strategy. Virtual solutions will take center stage as businesses work to improve employee health while reducing costs – from urgent and primary care to company wellness programs.
This is especially true for telebehavioral health. Today, employers better understand the link between mental health and workplace performance; they will provide employees with access to virtual mental health services to overcome the barriers of in-person therapy and psychiatry – like narrow insurance networks, a national provider shortage and the stigma of seeking care.
3. Heightened attention toward data management.
Telehealth’s expansion into primary care will arm family and internal medicine providers with the data they need to improve quality, care coordination and communication – all while bending the cost curve down. Moreover, patients will own their data and take it with them on healthcare visits. Wearables, too, will begin to play a bigger role in care delivery.
4. Artificial intelligence to play a greater role in new telehealth solutions.
AI will enable telehealth to maximize its clinical impact. Among dozens of applications, it can share patient information in advance to help providers make accurate diagnoses, guide patients in the at-home use of historically complex diagnostic tools and even deliver behavioral health therapy as an adjunct to clinician-supervised treatment.
5. Primary care to assume role of quarterback.
The virtual-first setting will enable primary care providers to quarterback their patients’ care. In addition to solving access issues resulting from a critical provider shortage, telehealth will increase the number of touchpoints between doctors and patients, especially when managing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
When you consider that a whopping 90% of our nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual healthcare expenditures is spent on people with chronic and mental health conditions, it’s no surprise that chronic disease is the leading driver of healthcare costs for businesses. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure holds true: Virtual primary care will improve employees’ health while helping businesses rein in runaway costs.
6. Federal policy will evolve to expand virtual care delivery.
At the onset of the pandemic, U.S. insurers quickly expanded coverage to include all telehealth visits and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services loosened restrictions on virtual care. Medicare, too, has expanded telehealth benefits. Going forward, the U.S. will likely see permanent changes to healthcare law that push telehealth and other technologies forward.