While telemedicine has been available for some time, the pandemic has increased its usage exponentially. And telehealth usage will continue after the pandemic as people value the convenience of home care.

“Telemedicine has been incredibly useful in gaining access to the care we need during the pandemic,” said David S. Webster, MD, MBA, Vice President and Executive Medical Director, Clinical Services, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. “Usage may vary as we exit the pandemic and we will still see significant numbers of face-to-face visits, but there is wider adoption of telehealth. And in the future, telehealth will be viewed simply as health care as more care is being moved home. “

Smart Business spoke to Webster about the increasing use of telemedicine services and the future of the industry.

How has the pandemic accelerated the move towards telehealth?

At the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth was a niche service. Then, in March 2020, with the advent of stay-at-home orders, there was almost no access to health care in medical clinics. Almost overnight, telemedicine rose from almost zero percent to the way the bulk of care was consumed – telemedicine visits for our members rose 3,400 percent in 2020. As soon as it happened, many expected it to be a challenge, but it went a lot smoother than expected.

What types of conditions can telemedicine diagnose and treat – and which cannot?

A big area is behavioral health. A physical exam is rarely required as part of behavioral health care, so telemedicine is a good solution. For some patients, going to a doctor’s office for behavioral health care is a stigma. With telemedicine, someone can have one-on-one contact with a doctor from home in a more private setting.

Telemedicine can also be used as a screening tool, with a doctor asking simple yes or no questions to determine if the person is safe to be treated with telemedicine or if they need a different care setting. There are a significant number of important diagnostic clues that can be derived through audio and video by simply watching and asking questions.

In addition, many things that are covered in emergency care can be diagnosed through telemedicine. Telehealth can also be used to treat chronic diseases when someone needs close watch to make sure a disease is not progressing. This monitoring does not necessarily require personal attention and can often be done remotely.

What are the benefits of telemedicine?

The main attraction for patients is convenience. A typical visit to a doctor’s office involves getting in your car, driving to that location, checking in, sitting in the waiting room, being taken to the exam room, taking the exam, checking out, and driving home. With telemedicine, patients are notified when the doctor is ready to see them and they can go straight to the appointment without leaving home.

In rural areas, broadband issues may need to be addressed in order to ensure the optimal effectiveness of telemedicine appointments. However, if you live in a rural area, you may have to travel long distances for medical care.

With telemedicine, you can now access care directly from home. And age doesn’t seem to be a deterrent. In 2020, almost half of our members over 60 years of age took part in a telemedicine appointment.

The key in healthcare is to simplify, proactively design and personalize care. We assume that the use and acceptance of telemedicine will continue to increase as part of a broader transition to home care. Telehealth will help create a great experience for the consumer.

Healthcare Insights is brought to you by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield