By Shama Hyder
The telehealth industry saw demand rise incredibly quickly this spring as Covid-19 started sweeping through the Northeast.
Telehealth appointments, of course, are ideal for a pandemic: patients can get an informed opinion on their symptoms, and receive a referral for a diagnostic test without having to physically go into an office and endanger others.
But while the spotlight on telehealth has been mainly related to its usefulness for infectious diseases, there are many other developments occurring in the industry that are on track to revolutionize the way many of us seek care.
Here’s a look at where telehealth is going in 2021.
Care management for chronic disease
In the earliest days of the pandemic, many patients with chronic or ongoing health issues delayed care due to concerns over catching Covid-19 or the reduced availability of health services due to an overflow of coronavirus patients in their area.
Now that hospitals and medical offices know better how to treat those coronavirus patients, non-emergent and ongoing care for chronic diseases like lupus, autoimmune disease, and age-related diseases is picking up once again.
One nationwide telehealth provider, CallOnDoc, sees many patients with chronic disease who need ongoing care. They’ve been seeing an emerging trend around remote monitoring for patients who have conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
It’s a signal that telehealth is moving away from one-off treatment to more chronic management, like a virtual primary care practice.
Thanks to wearable health devices that can track things like heart rate, glucose levels, blood pressure, and more, and then send that data to a provider, virtual ongoing care is becoming more and more effective.
In 2021, we’ll see telehealth continue to play a huge role for patients with these kinds of issues.
Faster technological advances to meet evolving regulations
One reason that telehealth providers were able to scale so quickly during the pandemic is because the U.S. Health and Human Services office relaxed certain regulations.
This made it easier for doctors and hospitals to offer telehealth services quickly, without worrying as much about HIPAA privacy requirements or whether patients with Medicaid or Medicare could be eligible for services.
As those regulatory measures begin to fade away, once the pandemic has been better controlled, telehealth providers will once again need to place security and privacy as a top priority. The latest data encryption technology will need to be used in order to develop sustainable telehealth solutions that can withstand greater usage volume, as well as wider implementation.
Continuing focus on mental health and psychiatry
One of the positive healthcare developments that the pandemic has brought is a renewed focus on the importance of mental health services.
Consider the growth of mental health apps like Calm and Headspace, which are designed to help users practice mindfulness, learn to meditate, and build healthy sleep habits. In April 2020, when the pandemic was beginning, the 10 top mindfulness apps saw an increase of more than 2 million downloads compared with January.
Telehealth providers are taking note, as well. With so many people experiencing anxiety and depression, many telehealth providers are offering virtual mental health resources to their patients. This includes everything from licensed counselors to psychiatrists.
When combined with online prescription ordering and refills, virtual mental health services can be a true lifeline for patients who are having trouble leaving their home or managing multiple doctor and pharmacy visits.
Telehealth is poised to continue growing in 2021, offering greater access to patients of all types: the elderly, those with mental health needs, pediatric patients, and more.
Successful providers will not only have to continue evolving their ability to meet tech requirements like data encryption and privacy—they’ll also have to focus on meeting the growing needs for ongoing care and mental health.
If done right, telehealth companies will be able to expand healthcare access to a much greater percent of the population, especially those who traditionally have been left behind.