Telemedicine has technically been around for decades, with doctors and nurses providing medical services over the phone, but only now is it beginning to pick up real momentum. Hospitals and doctor’s offices all over the country are starting to integrate more technologies and services in the telemedicine field, and technological innovators are spending more time developing products and apps meant specifically to improve the field.
So what’s accounting for this surge in growth? And can we expect it to continue?
Factors Driving Telemedicine Growth
These are some of the biggest factors responsible for the turn in momentum:
The availability of digital patient information. First, there’s the increasing availability of digital patient information. For telemedicine treatment to be successful, healthcare institutions need some way to digitally keep track of patient information—which is more difficult than it sounds. In addition to keeping records in a digital system, healthcare providers must take steps to ensure that data is secure (to remain compliant with HIPAA and other regulations). Additionally, if they’ve used paper records in the past, they must update all those records digitally. Fortunately, many institutions have now taken the steps necessary to accommodate these needs, making telemedicine more of a possibility.
The high cost of traditional care. Patients are also turned off by the high costs of traditional care. Medical treatment is expensive in the United States, even for basic services, so people are open to alternative forms of treatment. If an ordinarily $200 appointment is only $50 when changed to a telehealth session, most people would prefer the remote session. Telemedicine is a way to reduce costs for both healthcare providers and patients, and will likely be introduced as a substantial cost-saving solution in the near future.
Relaxing regulatory standards. The FDA and other governmental organizations are starting to loosen their standards for telemedicine platforms, permitting new apps and services at a faster rate. Historically, governmental institutions have been both slow and reluctant to approve new medical or healthcare services. This has been a disincentive to technological innovators and healthcare providers alike. However, the walls seem to be breaking down, and regulatory processes seem to be picking up the pace.
Patient feedback and positive experiences. Early adopters are starting to practice telemedicine regularly, and the feedback seems to be good. Patients who attend telehealth appointments and rely on telemedicine tend to prefer it to traditional experiences all around—or at least tolerate it. This positive feedback is encouraging, indicating that there’s a willing and supportive base of users for future telemedicine platforms.
Streamlined experiences. For the past several years, telemedicine platforms have been few and far between, and different providers have had different policies and different platforms regarding these services. However, in the modern era, we’re seeing a push to offer more streamlined experiences; patients can seamlessly transition from one provider to another, with minimal interruptions or delays.
Social acceptance. Public opinions on telemedicine also seem to be softening. In November of 2019, 65 percent of Americans said they’d be comfortable talking with a doctor or nurse practitioner online or over the phone instead of seeing them in person. In April of 2020, that percentage is now 74 percent. Of course, part of this is due to recent circumstances, which brings us to our final influencing factor.
The COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people were in lockdown, forced to work, entertain themselves, and connect with others only remotely. They’ve gotten far more comfortable with digital interactions like video calls and online chat, and are therefore more likely to use similar tools in other areas of their life—like in health and medicine.
Looking to the Future
So far, tech innovators, doctors, hospitals, and even patients seem to be benefitting from the increased availability and capacity of telemedicine. The industry seems poised for further growth in the near future; the entire market size of the telemedicine industry was valued at $6.61 billion in 2019, but by 2026, it’s expected to reach $17.14 billion, nearly tripling in size. New motivating factors for the growth may emerge, but the ones we currently have are substantial enough to keep the industry growing indefinitely.
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, TheNextWeb.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.