Telehealth’s Evolution and Staying Power Among Virtual Hospitalists

The rise of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has come out of absolute necessity. Despite everything that has happened, and the developments made in both telehealth services and technology, telehealth still isn’t a service that patients can’t live without. For providers, on the other hand, telehealth remains perhaps more relevant and important as ever.

The Evolution of Telehealth

Telehealth has changed over time in part because, ten years ago, technology was in a much different state than it is today. In healthcare alone, we have seen advancements in remote monitoring and Bluetooth capabilities; wearables and interactive tools; increasingly sophisticated applications; and much more. Initially, physicians were somewhat reluctant to practice telemedicine because of the steep adoption curve and how difficult it was to not be in the same room as a patient to administer care, evaluate symptoms and communicate effectively. The power of tools like high-resolution webcams, strengthened internet connectivity and increasingly polished telehealth apps have all helped solve for this issue, and in turn, have increased physician adoption.

At Contessa, the adoption of telehealth is not optional. Instead, it serves as a core part of our model. Tools like digital stethoscopes, tablets and Bluetooth-enabled biometric screening devices are just a few of the pieces patients receive at the beginning of their hospital-care-at-home journey. Though we are not completely virtual, the telehealth component and its corresponding tools allow us to communicate remotely. This allows for continuity of care within the setting a patient is most comfortable and helps providers overcome one of the biggest early obstacles to offering care outside the traditional hospital walls.

A Game Changer for Providers

One core reason telehealth lends itself to providers is for virtual rounding. Doctors are able to treat and visit with more patients more efficiently based on the ease in which they can see them: through a screen rather than getting to them on foot. It also shows promising signs of reducing burnout.

During the COVID-19 crisis, in particular, virtual rounding has also actualized the increase in speed and efficiency of which providers can issue care. For many with concerns about virtual healthcare, this experience is proving that the only difference in this type of care is that the patient and provider aren’t in the same space. Patients and providers still meet face to face and virtual visits actually afford more time during an appointment.

Looking Ahead

Of course, there are ideal use cases for telehealth, and it doesn’t prove right for every situation. However, it is important to remember the value of having a tool that better connects patients with their doctors, enables stronger care outcomes, and allows clinicians to treat a higher number of patients than they normally would be able to in the traditional setting. These benefits far outweigh the costs of adoption.

It is also important to note that although use of telehealth may ebb and flow, patient satisfaction of telehealth visits is exceptionally high. Nearly one-third of consumers say they’ve used telehealth, and the vast majority of them reported a great experience. Perhaps more tellingly, an estimated 60-90% of physicians are also participating. Health systems are even seeking out physician and patient feedback to improve the process.

Much about telehealth still remains to be addressed by CMS and the regulatory complexity of virtual care will likely remain the same. We may see an ebb and flow in how the service is leveraged, but the state of telehealth is already nothing like it was just one year ago. What remains to be seen is the evolutionary path it will take and the continued benefits it will provide across the healthcare continuum. With all that in mind, I’m confident telehealth will continue to be a pivotal piece of healthcare delivery going forward, particularly amongst our community of providers.

Disclaimer: The author of this post, geriatrician Mark Montoney, MD, was previously Contessa’s Chief Medical Officer. Though he is retired and no longer with the organization, the information in this article is clinically accurate and verified.