I sleep with it next to me and it wakes me in the morning. I listen to the news through multiple podcasts. I turn the front door alarm off and on. I order food both take-out and groceries. I shop from multiple websites. I count my steps from it. I access my banks. Of course, I call people and now more frequently facetime. I keep all my passwords on it. I navigate from it both on foot and in the car. I take and share photos. I stalk my children and grandchildren through Facebook and Instagram
More recently, or since the pandemic, I have done things that were unthinkable before. I bought a car. I scheduled my vaccination. And now, I can get medical care through it. I could go on but, I am lost without it.
The object of course is my phone. My grandchildren (ages 2 and 3) even look for my phone when they are over. If they can’t have mine they will improvise by putting a phone-like object to their ear and babbling into it. The phone has become even at their age, an essential object. They have had most of their encounters with the pediatrician via a tele visit with the aid of their parents.
The pandemic has accelerated the implementation of telehealth to levels that otherwise would have taken years. And while its use is leveling off, the thought that we would return to pre-pandemic use is unrealistic. There are several factors that will drive this behavior.
Just like my expectation to use my phone for most tasks, the consumer has come to expect the use of the telephone or computer for healthcare. While we will need a face-to-face encounter occasionally, gone will be the day of waiting in the clinic for a 5-minute doctor’s appointment. That appointment included some element of a physical exam but most of the time the physician spent on a keyboard in front of a computer screen. The customer will demand a more meaningful use of their time.
The customer will also question the need for in-person visits in the delivery of behavioral health or chronic disease management. While both disciplines occasionally require a face-to-face visit, most of the care can be addressed through a virtual visit.
Urgent care was made available to members of health plans pre-pandemic to lower costs in avoiding ER or urgent care visits. As the rest of the population has gotten a taste of the convenience, there will be an expectation that this will continue to be available.
There are a few barriers that need to be addressed. Access to the appropriate technology and broadband availability will be tackled with time and money, but given the consumer demand, it should be addressed soon. The quality measure will determine the value and appropriateness of the engagement. Reimbursement for the tele visit has yet to be determined but given the movement to value-based care, the efficiencies of telehealth will become increasingly apparent.