Jessica is the Founder & CEO of Valux Digital, a nationally recognized full-service marketing and PR firm.
In 2019, 43% of health centers in the United States had the capability to provide telehealth and remote health services, a number that spiked to 95% in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The quick and widespread adoption of telehealth services across the nation sparked a debate about the future of medicine and whether telehealth was poised to gain permanent traction in the healthcare industry. The simple answer is that telehealth services already are a critical component of a functioning healthcare ecosystem and have been for decades. The difference now is that these services are front and center on the global medical stage, moving digital innovation to the top of the healthcare provider’s “must-have” list for 2021 and beyond.
Digital healthcare isn’t new, you’ve just been overlooking it.
Despite the recent attention on telehealth services, remote digital healthcare has been a staple of the American healthcare system for decades. Telemedicine was first used in the late 1950s for remote psychiatric consultations. In the 50 years that followed, telehealth practitioners slowly built upon and strengthened this foundation in what might seem the unlikeliest of places: home healthcare.
Home healthcare providers have leveraged digital health technology in various forms — connected devices for remote patient monitoring, telehealth visits, etc. — for decades. By 2015, mobile health apps were already commonplace in physicians’ offices, and an article that year from mHealth Intelligence indicated that more than 50% of doctors used some form of mobile health app every day and desired increased interoperability for information sharing.
Health apps for public use, including those run by physicians’ offices, health insurance companies and hospitals are available at the touch of a button, and those, too, have been around for years. Health and fitness apps, once a novelty, are now on every mobile phone and are connected to medical devices, fitness wearables and other devices.
The benefits of remote healthcare increase with technological advances.
While digital health services have been under our noses all along, something about the discussion has changed: Patients and the way they view the service. In recent years, telehealth services transformed from a nice-to-have to a critical service for many people — and not just because patients didn’t want to share a waiting room with sick people.
A 2015 study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that 87% of patients accessing video visits with their doctor did so because it was convenient, and 84% expressed an improvement in the relationship with their provider. And those services were conducted on technology that was old at the time.
Fast forward to 2021 and the results of the Covid-19 Telehealth Impact Study, which shows that telehealth removed transportation barriers for 76% of patients and that more than two-thirds of patients would prefer telehealth in the future. It’s important to remember that the number of people receiving telehealth services in 2020 and 2021 is more than double that of years prior, making the impact that much more significant.
Although patient satisfaction is a key driving force in the current remote health marketplace, the benefits go beyond this to impact the full quality of care. The same study reported that 54% of rural providers felt they were able to provide quality care. In other words, telehealth increased access to quality health care for rural communities, the disabled, the poor and those otherwise without access.
Mobile technology continues to revolutionize healthcare across the board.
Telehealth visits are not the only digital healthcare services to benefit from technological advances over time. Right now, a company I consult for, HealthIV, is developing an app that connects doctors to patients and patients to home health nurses and pharmacies for prescription in-home IV services. Once complete, it will join other health-based applications seeking to give doctors a window into patients’ progress and patients a window into their own healthcare, all from a mobile phone.
Outside of traditional healthcare, there are yet more ways that digital healthcare has infiltrated our daily lives. Anyone working to achieve weight loss has experienced calorie counting apps, exercise apps and step counters that provide reminders to move throughout the day. In more recent years, bathroom scales and water bottles that tattletale on naughty patients have become favored tools of fitness professionals, nutritionists and doctors, providing key insights through real-time, mobile phone and lifestyle device-based remote patient monitoring. Fifteen years ago, I would never have foreseen a day when my doctor could watch my weight, my water intake, my daily step count and whether I ate my broccoli — all with no help from me.
Those seeking peace and calm in their lives have turned in droves to mental health self-help apps on iPhone and Android. In 2020, not surprisingly, Headspace and Calm accounted for 90% of active mental health app users, according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. It’s a pretty big step forward from those 1950s psychiatric consultations.
With each advance in technology and each innovation in the mobile space, digital health services become that much stronger. These tools that were once merely nice-to-have conveniences are now helping doctors and experts help patients from afar with everything from weight loss to mental health to home healthcare and the traditional “I have the flu” telehealth visit. These innovations are 60 years in the making, and in my opinion, they’re only going to get better from here.