It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.
We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.
Below is an answer from Kate Ryder, the founder and CEO of Maven, a virtual clinic focused on the health of women and families.
Telemedicine will be fundamental to how healthcare is delivered, and it may look different than the telemedicine model we’re familiar with today.
It should have been the easiest sell: Why disrupt your day to go to a doctor for a non-urgent issue when you could do the appointment from the comfort of your home?
Though some people loved this healthcare option, telemedicine has been slow to get mainstream adoption, given the significant barriers to scale. From cultural perceptions of online care among both providers and patients, to limitations in reimbursement for telemedicine visits, to difficulties with regulation and licensing for providers to be able to practice across state lines, telemedicine never took off until Covid-19 hit.
The last few months have been truly transformative. At the height of the pandemic, 85% of appointments were being done via telemedicine. In just the past few months, consumer adoption has skyrocketed, with 46% of consumers using telehealth, up from 11% the year before. Provider adoption has also increased dramatically: A survey released in April found that close to half of doctors are now using telehealth to treat patients, up from 18% two years ago. Market research firm Forrester predicts that virtual healthcare visits are on pace to top more than 1 billion by year’s end. At Maven, telemedicine utilization has been up 50% across the board, and we’ve seen significant demand for specialties like mental health, where visits have been up 300%. We’ve also seen some promising efforts to improve telehealth coverage and reimbursement, as Medicare and Medicaid have agreed to pay for virtual visits at the same rate as in-person visits for the duration of the pandemic (and hopefully beyond).
Telemedicine will be central to how healthcare is delivered in five years, and that’s a great thing. A recent McKinsey report stated that up to $250 billion of current US healthcare spending could potentially be virtualized, which could have a ripple effect for other parts of our industry as well. Patient satisfaction is as high for telemedicine visits as in-person visits, and the quality of care is consistent, as long as you have a good provider treating you. Basic access is the single biggest critical gap we see in care—50% of US counties don’t have an OB-GYN for instance—and telemedicine doesn’t just improve access, but makes care more affordable. Further, patients who want a provider of a specific race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or who speaks a specific language often have much broader access to those providers via a telemedicine network rather than an in-person network. Delivering on this culturally-specific access to care is critical to addressing the racial disparities that are so rampant in the healthcare system.
I also think we’ll see telemedicine utilized for more than just one-off visits, but as part of modernizing certain care pathways. For instance, guidelines for how to deliver prenatal care haven’t been updated since the 1930s. Pregnant women spend 40+ hours going back and forth to the doctor during their pregnancy, which is hugely disruptive to work and family life. When Covid-19 hit, some non-urgent prenatal visits, where scans weren’t needed, were pushed to telemedicine. There are now many OB-GYNs pushing for more virtual prenatal visits, combined with remote monitoring, to make life easier for the patient and only make them come into a doctor’s office or hospital when a critical test or scan is needed.
I’m optimistic about the way telemedicine will become an instrumental part of the way we deliver care in the years to come. Covid-19 has deeply challenged our healthcare system, though I believe the mainstream adoption of telemedicine is one of the silver linings.
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