- Nearly two out of three patients surveyed between March and April 2021 said they prefer the convenience of telemedicine compared to in-office visits
- In August, the Biden administration invested more than $19 million to expand telehealth for rural and underserved communities
- You can find telemedicine options on Solv, which offers telemedicine services in more than 40 U.S. states, or sign up for a Solv Plus membership.
Before the pandemic upended life in March 2020, telemedicine was becoming more popular. Some tech-friendly providers were already using video or audio visits to reach their patients, while other forward-looking providers were only beginning to think about how to use virtual care with their patients. But most people tended to see telemedicine offerings as a bonus — a “nice to have” option they spotted at the buffet, not a “need to have” staple they expected on the menu.
Even when those frontrunners offered telemedicine services, not everybody was jumping to use them. Roughly one in 10 consumers were using telehealth before COVID-19, according to McKinsey & Company. Some may have been unsure about how to navigate virtual platforms or wondered how this care measured up to in-person visits, so they stuck with the tried-and-true practices they knew best.
But the coronavirus pandemic shifted the landscape of how people accessed care, ushering in a new paradigm that would soon push telemedicine and telehealth into the mainstream. As the world locked down in early 2020 and clinics closed their doors, providers had to quickly figure out ways to deliver effective, high-quality care through technology that could meet patients where they were — at home. The healthcare industry faced a turning point: telemedicine was no longer optional, but necessary.
History of telemedicine since 2020
At the beginning of the public health emergency, the federal and state governments passed a slew of policies to make it easier for Americans to use telemedicine during COVID-19. Under the federal public health emergency, healthcare providers were permitted to use everyday technology — like FaceTime, Zoom and WhatsApp — to conduct visits by audio or video, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Modified regulations let doctors deliver telehealth services across state borders, depending on particular state and federal rules. Providers also could prescribe certain medications without doing a medical evaluation in person.
State laws also changed how insurance companies paid providers for telemedicine during COVID. California, for instance, led the charge on ensuring that Medi-Cal — the state’s insurance for low-income residents — would reimburse providers for audio and video visits at the same rates as clinic visits (what experts call “pay parity”). This connected low-income patients with greater opportunities to take advantage of telemedicine appointments.
As it became easier to try virtual care, people grew to like it. Nearly two out of three patients surveyed between March and April 2021 said they prefer the convenience of telehealth compared to in-office visits, according to the HIMSS 2021 State of Healthcare Report. Providers have been building on this momentum by finding innovative ways to incorporate telehealth into their practices.
Where are we now?
Even as people have transitioned out of lockdown and are once again navigating life outside their homes, people remain eager to use what some call the “digital front door” of healthcare. Increasingly, people are looking to telemedicine as the first stop on their journey when a medical issue surfaces — they see it as an easy, convenient way to connect with a provider and determine the best next steps for themselves or family members.
So who are telemedicine’s biggest fans? Younger generations, research suggests. More than 70 percent of Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X patients surveyed said they prefer telehealth over in-person care because of the convenience, according to the HIMSS 2021 State of Healthcare Report. Among Gen Z and Millennials, nearly half said they might even switch providers if telehealth visits weren’t an option, according to the report.
What are telemedicines’s greatest hits?
While these services work well for certain needs, experts say that telemedicine isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every situation that a family might encounter. Telemedicine is a smart way to deal with an infectious illness, like COVID-19, the flu, or other viruses, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Virtual screenings prevent patients from exposing others, particularly vulnerable groups such as people who are chronically ill, immunocompromised, older, or pregnant.
Video calls also let providers see you in your home environment, which can provide context clues for diagnoses, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Telemedicine appointments can help an allergist determine which surroundings might be causing your reaction, for example, or allow neurologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists to monitor your ability to care for yourself and family members at home.
“Do’s and don’ts” of telemedicine
As people use virtual care, it’s important that they understand exactly what telemedicine is and when to use telemedicine. First, the proper language: “telemedicine” is defined as the practice of using technology to deliver care from a distance, whereas “telehealth” refers to the technology and services used to provide that care, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
When should you opt for a telemedicine appointment versus going to urgent care or the emergency room? Experts say in-person visits are necessary for procedures like biopsies, lab tests, or vaccine injections, according to California Healthline. Some specialists — such as podiatrists or chiropractors — rely on physical touch to do their job and need to see patients in person. If you’re experiencing serious injury or chest pain, go to the emergency room.
On the other hand, video or phone appointments are beneficial for follow-up visits to discuss recovery, raise ongoing questions, or talk through instructions for medications, according to California Healthline. Telemedicine can also be a game changer for people with chronic conditions, like diabetes, who must regularly monitor themselves and check in with providers.
“Store and forward” technology — which electronically transmits your medical information to a practitioner, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy — can enhance this process. Some providers are sending patients tools, like iPads or blood pressure monitors, that can send information remotely. Other at-home tools can empower you to check your blood pressure, pulse rate, and blood sugar by yourself — so you can have those numbers handy by the time you jump on a call with a provider
How telemedicine can make your life easier
You probably have a million and one things to do each day, and telemedicine can reduce stress while you juggle caregiving, work, or other responsibilities. Telemedicine appointments can help busy parents get the medical attention they need while doing everything from watching the kids, supervising remote school, or caring for an aging parent.
Virtual visits can fit seamlessly into your schedule, in the convenience of your own home — no need to take the afternoon off work or alert your boss to deal with the hassle of a downtown commute. You can find peace of mind in knowing that urgent care telemedicine will always be at your fingertips in times of crisis (and when you don’t want to change out of your pajamas).
Beyond saving time, telemedicine can also help you save money on transportation, according to California Healthline. It can also broaden options for care, as patients can reach a wider range of providers based in different regions — which may prove especially useful for services in high demand, like therapy. Instead of remaining on wait lists for mental health professionals in just one city, you can search nationally for providers who are a good fit. Telemedicine can also prove beneficial for older patients with mobility challenges, people with physical disabilities, and those without regular access to transportation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Above all, telemedicine aims to simplify the healthcare process and make it easier to navigate: less administrative hoops to jump through, less paperwork, and less time spent in waiting rooms. To connect virtually with a provider, you can find telemedicine options on Solv, which offers telemedicine services in more than 40 U.S. states.
Looking ahead: What is the future of telemedicine?
Nearly two years after the world’s first lockdown, healthcare providers face another big turning point: will this trend stick? Now that telemedicine has found success in its big debut during COVID, there are signs that it’s here to stay.
Though the emergency regulations that paved the way for this rise may change, the federal government is already putting new measures in place to expand telemedicine services for the long haul. A few highlights: in August, the Biden administration invested more than $19 million to expand telehealth for rural and underserved communities, according to a state and federal policy tracker from Manatt Health. Many states are now putting “pay parity” rules into effect permanently. And the government is focusing on incorporating telehealth services into pediatric care so that more children can access mental health support nationwide.
Together, providers and patients are turning the page on an exciting — and unprecedented — chapter as the rise of telemedicine continues to bring quality care closer to home.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? (July 9, 2021)
- Policy changes during COVID-19 (*Note: no date included)
- State of Healthcare Report: Uncovering Healthcare Barriers and Opportunities (2021)
- Benefits of Telemedicine. (*Note: date is not included)
- Telemedicine or In-Person Visit? Pros and Cons (October 26, 2020)
- What’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth? (*Note: no date included)
- Executive Summary: Tracking Telehealth Changes State-by-State in Response to COVID-19 (November 04, 2021)
- What is telehealth? (*No date)
- Telehealth leapt forward with COVID-19. Who was left behind? (July 5, 2021)