Telehealth Emerged Through the Pandemic – Is It Here To Stay?

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Written by: Susan Williams

How often have you physically waited in a Doctor’s office for your appointment? I can remember many times when I sat waiting in an office surrounded by sick people thinking that there had to be a better, healthier and more convenient way to do this.

Then COVID-19 hit.

The pandemic forced everything into a lockdown mode and the ways that we used to do things had to be reconsidered.

Even visits to the Doctor moved to an online format. Phone calls, video calls, sending photos online all found their way into the quickly built delivery engine of mainstream healthcare.

I know. I was part of it.

I had to see my doctor a few times over the course of the pandemic and all my appointments were done from the comfort of my own home. My appointments were all scheduled online, I confirmed them via text, I spoke with my Doctor over the phone, prescriptions sent directly to the pharmacy and any specific further health requisitions were sent to me via e-mail.

And I definitely wasn’t alone in doing this. According to a study conducted of 36.5M people published in JAMA;

“During the first four months of the pandemic, telehealth visits accounted for 23.6% of all interactions – compared with 0.3% of contacts in 2019.”  

That is a significant jump. Like so many other things the pandemic forced a change on a system that was otherwise quite reluctant to shift (online learning anyone?). 

But telehealth doesn’t just mean interactions with your healthcare providers. According to an article published in The Lancet this is only the beginning;

“Technologies to support telehealth are proliferating and include wearable devices, smart phones, and instrumented (smart) homes. Smart homes can be equipped with environmental and personal sensors that are interconnected using the Internet of Things. These devices can monitor patient health and send messages to responsible clinicians when emergency situations are detected. The cost of these devices is falling, and an almost unlimited amount of data can now be stored and analysed.”

And this is a good thing. The population is aging and the demands for healthcare are going to increase substantially. 

For example, in a report published by The Frasier Institute, they stated that individuals aged 65 and older accounted for 16.2 percent of the total population in 2018 but they are projected to become 23.4 percent of the population in 2040.

They also shared that 45.7% of all healthcare costs in 2019 were spent on individuals 65 years of age and older. They further went on to project that if nothing changes in how we deliver healthcare, this “...will result in an increase in health care expenditures of approximately 88 percent from 2019 to 2040.”.

So in other words, the current healthcare model is just not sustainable the way that it’s built. We are just doomed to buckle under the weight of increasing demand if nothing changes. 

My concern now is that as the restrictions of the pandemic are slowly starting to lift, will the urgency to come up with creative alternatives disappear as we fall back into our old ways?

Will it take another major life altering event to kick start things to get moving?

I certainly hope not. After everything we have been through I really hope that we continue to challenge, learn and evolve into new and better ways of doing things.

Also, I really don’t want to have to return to sitting in a waiting room filled with sick people.

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