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The Growth of Telehealth: How It’s Transforming the Future

Online doctor appointments might not be new, but they went from niche to normal during COVID-19. The growth of telehealth, using digital information and communications to support health care services, has been extensive ever since. Many physicians believe this trend toward more telehealth is here to stay as well.

To gain insight into how remote services have evolved and their potential to change the future of medicine for the better, you might find it helpful to hear some physician perspectives.

EXPLORING THE GROWTH OF TELEHEALTH IN THE PAST

Many of the technologies used to connect patients to physicians and other health care services are recent advances, but telehealth itself isn’t exactly a new concept. In The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment from the Institute of Medicine, the authors explain that physicians used telephones to provide medical advice to clinics on ships as early as the 1920s. The same article notes that teleradiology, transmitting x-rays or other images taken in one location to a separate location, has been around for decades.

While health care technology to provide remote services has certainly grown since that time, it has been relatively uneven. Mobile apps that allow patients to access test results and send messages to providers, for instance, are standard. Yet many physicians simply didn’t use telehealth previously—at least not often—for a variety of reasons, including some initial hesitancy from patients.

“Reimbursement guidelines were an effective barrier to telemedicine use for both primary and specialty care,” explains Dr. Jacqueline Larson, a pediatric gastroenterologist and St. George’s University School of Medicine (SGU) graduate. The good news is recent policy changes and waivers, some of which are discussed in Implications for Telehealth in a Postpandemic Future, have made remote health care more accessible to patients.

RECENT CHANGES IN TELEHEALTH

Once the pandemic took root in 2020, there was a rapid shift to providing patient care via digital tools. It became the modality of choice for many physicians. In fact, a report on telehealth usage from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows there was a 154 percent increase in remote clinical visits from the last week of March 2019 compared to the same period in 2020.

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