The COVID-19 pandemic has driven an explosion in demand for remote care. Thanks to advances in technology – especially around cyber security and internet connectivity – along with greater support from health plans for virtual care, the telehealth industry had already been experiencing rapid growth before the start of 2020. It’s safe to say telemedicine is now here to stay, and healthcare organizations need to be prepared.
To 1 Billion Visits and Beyond:
The Rise of Telehealth in the U.S.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the telehealth industry was growing. It appealed to a wide audience as early as 2013 because of its convenience – despite a good amount of resistance from patients concerned with the security of their private information. As technology supporting telehealth initiatives and support from insurers grew over the years, telehealth adoption by both patients and providers increased. The events of 2020 have created an explosion in the use of telemedicine that won’t likely slow down for the foreseeable future.
There were 22 million telehealth visits in 2013. A survey conducted by Cisco that year revealed that 76% of patients would choose telehealth over interacting with a provider in person. That figure was in spite of 39% of respondents admitting they don’t trust the security of their personal health information on the internet.
While the number of telehealth visits stood steady at 22 million from 2013 to 2014, more people began considering telehealth as mainstream. The Federal Communications Commission and other entities worked on initiatives toward expanding connectivity to rural areas in order to standardize access in the telemedicine industry.
Telehealth visits remained relatively steady in 2016 at 22 million. Telemedicine removed barriers of access and stigma to mental health services – making this the most highly utilized area of telehealth that year.
Telehealth visits saw a dramatic jump to 30 million in 2017 – up from 22 million in 2016. According to a report from Fair Health, this growth occurred almost twice as fast in urban areas as compared to rural areas. In 2017, telehealth was most commonly used for patients with minor injuries and digestive issues.
Telehealth visits were projected to range from 35-42 million in 2018. Considered a pivotal year in telemedicine, we saw advances in the use of artificial intelligence, greater legislative support for telehealth initiatives, and better collaboration between in-person and virtual care teams.
Continued growth in telehealth was projected in 2019 – from 36 million visits on the low end to 50 million on the high end. This year was seen as a tipping point in the telemedicine industry as even more providers began offering remote care, and an increasing number of health plans began to cover it.
While Statista’s original projections for telehealth visits in 2020 ranged from 39-60 million, COVID-19 has led to a staggering increase that has Forrester predicting upwards of 1 billion virtual visits this year. According to the report:
- COVID-19 will account for roughly 900 million of these remote visits
- 200 million visits will be related to the flu or general care
- 80 million will involve mental health
No one can predict how 2021 will unfold. Prior to the pandemic, only 24% of healthcare organizations in the United States had virtual care programs. The events of 2020 have cemented the importance of telehealth programs. Has your organization begun to pursue expanding telehealth options? Do you want to be ready for what comes?