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Every year has their ups and downs. While 2020 will be long perceived as having more of the latter, that doesn’t mean some upsides occurred as well. Among some of the most notable were some of the advances that the pandemic encouraged. In this regard, telemedicine in 2020 has seen some remarkable changes that are worth noting. Advances in telehealth have occurred at all levels from platforms, to providers, to patients. And as a result, the healthcare landscape will be forever changed moving forward.

Telemedicine in 2020 began with a subtle promise of change for the future of healthcare. Many advantages were being touted, but at the same time, many barriers stood in the way. Some were legal and regulatory while others were related to societal resistance. But that all changed after COVID-19 came onto the scene. Within months, advances in telehealth have completely changed our perception of virtual healthcare services. For this reason, it’s important to take a look back at the year to see just how far we’ve come.

“A shift in patients’ perception of telehealth has perhaps been the most important in increasing adoption, with attitudes moving from, ‘This provider must not think my problem is important since they are seeing me via telehealth,’ to ‘This provider cares about me and therefore is seeing me via telehealth.’” – Jonathan R. Slotkin, M.D., Neurosurgery, Danville, PA

What a Difference a Pandemic Makes

Many have been encouraging healthcare systems for years to embrace advances in telehealth for the sake of medicine. These services offer many potential advantages, of which many are desperately needed in healthcare today. For rural communities and those in need of high-level specialists, telemedicine offers greater access. Likewise, many suggested before that telehealth offers greater efficiency and reduces healthcare costs. But despite this, providers, patients and health insurers alike resisted.

With the pandemic, however, everything changed. Healthcare systems were overloaded with COVID-19 cases, and in-person care was high-risk. Advances in telehealth offered greater safety for patients and healthcare workers alike. As a result, telemedicine in 2020 skyrocketed with 80 percent of all providers now offering at least partial services. In the process, providers realized they needed less office space and enjoyed greater mobility and flexibility. Patients realized they no longer had to travel or sit in waiting rooms for extended periods of time. And everyone appreciated the fact that advances in telehealth offered high-quality care. It was a massive paradigm shift in awareness that catalyzed telemedicine in 2020.

The Explosion of Telemedicine in 2020

The growth of telemedicine in 2020 has extended well beyond hospitals and providers’ offices. Major companies have enjoyed tremendous success by capitalizing on these new trends and advances in telehealth. Teladoc, a leader in telehealth services, saw an increase in virtual healthcare visits in its platform by more than 200 percent. This resulted in an 85 percent growth in year-on-year revenues. Epic, a leader in electronic healthcare records, partnered with Twilio this year. This offered providers videoconferencing tools while simultaneously documenting in patient charts. And other companies launched new healthcare platforms in telehealth previously underappreciated. Mydecine Innovation Group Inc. introduced its Mindleap Health app designed to provide mental healthcare. Even Televet and several other companies accelerated their platforms for veterinary telehealth services. As is clear, the advances in telehealth have been rather broad.

While these advances in telehealth are impressive, there are others worth mentioning as well. Telemedicine in 2020 also saw increased telehealth surgeries over the course of the year. Many elective surgeries were postponed or cancelled. However, some companies have increased their use of robotics to perform remote surgeries via telehealth. Corindus Vascular Robotics is one such company. Likewise, others have sought to leverage telemedicine in 2020 to improve healthcare training. Santen Pharmaceuticals Company and Orbis International partnered to launch a Cybersight training platform in order to accelerate provider training abroad. It thus seems the entirety of healthcare has finally embraced telemedicine as a favored approach.

“Physicians have found telemedicine has served as a vital lifeline for practices negatively impacted financially by the pandemic. In our view, the rapid uptake of telemedicine has important structural implications for the U.S. healthcare system.” – Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, University of California’s Berkeley School of Public Health

Future Advances in Telehealth to Come

Naturally, the rapid changes in telemedicine in 2020 have been challenging. Many hospitals and providers have had to adapt quickly as have patients. New credentialing protocols needed to be established for providers in many areas. Likewise, new infrastructures were needed in many locations to handle more robust utilization. And of course, new policies and procedures on how to handle advances in telehealth had to be devised and adopted. A significant number of healthcare institutions lacked these systems and workflows when 2020 began. But this is no longer the case.

Some of the major barriers that existed before have now been eliminated or reduced. For one, health insurance companies are no longer reimbursing providers at reduced rates for telemedicine services. After the pandemic began, the CDC relaxed its restrictions on telehealth services and recommended full reimbursement for clinical services. Likewise, patients became more adept at using videoconferencing tools and valued the safety of telemedicine platforms. Finally, providers who had previously been reluctant also saw its benefits, especially in the midst of a health crisis. All of these developments paved the way for modern telehealth use and technological advances in telehealth.

While these changes have been vast and rapid, much more is expected to come. Analysts predict that the telemedicine industry will increase 7-fold over the next 5 years. This means roughly a 38 percent annual growth during this time. Likewise, industry CIO’s are pushing for improved patient engagement tools, more extensive use of AI, and better workflow integrations. And of course, the need for robust cybersecurity is essential for telemedicine in 2020 in beyond. While 2020 was indeed a banner year for advances in telehealth, it isn’t likely to be the last. It may have simply been the year that its advantages were more fully appreciated.

 

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