Bringing up COVID-19 now after all it has affected and everything that has happened so far is like addressing the elephant in the room after it has already eaten the banquet and run through a few walls and some furniture.
To simply say that COVID-19 has had an impact on the world is not doing the event any justice, and nowhere has it been felt more severely than, unsurprisingly, in healthcare.
Out of the ashes of the initial chaos rose a new giant on the healthcare horizon, and that giant was telehealth.
Telehealth was definitely a silver lining in the storm that was COVID-19. It was an obvious answer to following social distancing guidelines and trying to reduce the spread of the virus. But what about now? How does telehealth look at this point, and how is the future of telehealth starting to take shape?
KLAS has recently published the Telehealth Performance 2020 report, which dives into these questions and more.
The Fallout from COVID-19
We heard from someone last year who said that his or her organization had a 5-year plan for telehealth in January of 2020. That same plan was thrown out in April because the organization had already achieved everything in that plan.
The initial panic at the start of the pandemic where organizations were grabbing any solution available is subsiding, and many organizations are asking what telehealth will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As can be seen in the chart below, many are predicting that although telehealth usage probably will not hit the same numbers as it did during the pandemic, its usage will be significantly higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic:
Many of the early struggles of telehealth mainly revolved around having to learn it immediately on the provider side and keeping up with the deluge of requests and the scaling on the vendor side.
Nowadays, people are much more used to telehealth and are making strides with it, and vendors especially are pushing forward.
Vendors in Bloom
Telehealth vendors are really starting to embrace things like simplicity in their efforts to improve their solutions and the overall experiences of the patients and providers.
After the initial craziness, some vendors have figured out easier ways to manage communication and telehealth in these solutions, such as sending out links to patients to connect to a doctor instead of having 100 doctors on call on a given solution.
In fact, the data from our report shows that those vendors that are not only working to meet their customers’ needs but also looking to improve relationships with their customers are seeing far more adoption of their systems than those that are not.
Telehealth customers seem to be valuing the relationships that they have with vendors, giving those that focus on that an edge in long-term-plan discussions.
The Future Is Bright
So, considering all this, what does the future of telehealth look like? It is likely that we will see much more thoughtful strategies implemented in the choosing of telehealth solutions going forward now that we are out of the “Wild West” mentality that was kicked off by COVID-19.
Providers are no longer looking for something that just works; they want to shop around and see what can best meet their needs. Many solutions are likely to be either replaced or added upon to match those needs.
We are also seeing rising interest in other use cases and specialties that missed that initial train or are more complex, such as behavioral health.
EMR vendors are also getting more attention in this space as they create solutions that integrate well into their initial EMR solutions, and we are seeing trends toward providers sticking with these vendors if their solutions are good enough.
It would be a critical understatement to just say that the boom in telehealth was significant. It wasn’t just interest in telehealth that shifted; this was a full-blown shift in how healthcare worked on the whole, and it has been unprecedented.
The focus is no longer on how to engage patients in what was formerly the traditional way. Telehealth is the new way to do healthcare. If patients can avoid going into the office for the next 20 years, then the system that will lead to that conclusion is what will be supported.
This shift has not only affected telehealth; it has expanded to something of a digital transformation. Virtual check-ins, virtual waiting rooms, and other systems designed to reduce the friction of the previous healthcare experience are on the rise, and that is a trend that will likely continue well into the future.
If you want more details as to this shift and how it is progressing, check out KLAS’ Telehealth Performance 2020 report.
This piece was written by Adam Cherrington, Research Director, Patient Engagement & Telehealth, and Dan Czech, Director, Market Analysis, Cybersecurity, Patient Engagement & Telehealth, with KLAS.