With telemedicine steadily on the rise, early research into virtual consultations is highlighting the benefits for users, as well as areas where progress needs to be made for patients and healthcare providers alike to meet growing market expectations.
This is according to Geraldine Bartlett, chief professional officer for Universal Healthcare. Speaking at the annual Board of Healthcare Funders conference 2022 recently, Bartlett noted that recent international data indicates virtual consultations have become well entrenched as part of the patient-provider exchange.
“An article published by McKinsey in February this year stated that in April 2020, the rate of virtual consultation was a full 78 times higher than two months prior. This is no surprise, given the rise of Covid at that time. While the article goes on to note that by mid 2021 telehealth utilisation had levelled out to around 38 times the pre Covid rate, it also asserts that 83% of providers were offering virtual services as opposed to just 13% in 2019,” she says.
“In the US, 95% of health centres report that they now have telehealth capabilities, while 40% of patients say they will continue to use this remote technology, according to the McKinsey article.
“While telemedicine or telehealth, as it is now being referred to, has existed for some time via remote communication such as e-mail and text messages, Covid has precipitated the inevitable advancement of this type of technology.”
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Bartlett notes that virtual platforms offer a more interactive telehealth experience where multiple elements of a real-time consultation can take place at the same time, including the sharing of information, recording of medical notes, sending electronic documents and, of course, the actual consultation itself.
“At a local level, we are also seeing an uptick in the demand for remote consulting. It is early days and the data is changing constantly but for now, learnings from the telehealth platform developed and operated by Universal Healthcare show that certain groups of patients in particular are searching for telehealth options, most notably parents of young children and budget-conscious patients looking for lower-cost options,” says Bartlett.
“From a medical scheme point of view, it has become an expectation among members that virtual consultations should be covered. Telehealth holds a clear appeal to emerging markets, with a total of 44% of millennials saying that they have used online consultations before and more than 60% of all patients registering as uninsured and opting to pay for consultations upfront.”
“We are seeing that patients are faster to adopt telehealth than healthcare providers. For doctors, the greatest area of concern seems to be the uncertainty about medical scheme support for this new method of interaction, leading to reimbursement as the second greatest concern.”
According to Bartlett, the advantages of telehealth far outweigh the concerns, with additional shared benefits to both providers and patients including greater convenience, more efficient use of time and improved access to care, especially for those in outlying and rural areas, among others.
“There are aspects of virtual consultation that require consideration on the part of all involved, such as privacy issues and the correct privacy protocols as well as security of information. With the increasing number of platforms out there, it is important that users take care when selecting a virtual consulting room and that they make sure they opt for a reputable service that has the necessary security and privacy measures in place. Many more lives can benefit from connecting providers and patients at a virtual level.”