Trends say telemedicine to show strong post-pandemic growth

Improvements in telemedicine technology that can make the experience better for both patients and practitioners, as well as incorporating more at-home treatment options, point toward a continued increase in the use of remote video in all phases of health care.

Those were some of the conclusions during a recent webinar on the future of telemedicine where experts in cancer care and pediatrics said the recent surge in health care services delivered remotely is expected to continue after the Covid-19 pandemic concludes in the next 12 months.

That growth will have benefits for all patients in the form of greater flexibility and availability of care, with rural areas getting more access to doctors and specialists than ever because of advances in telemedicine technology.

Kimberlee Emfield Rowett, the oncology telehealth nurse navigator for Intermountain Healthcare, said rural clinics in her group have seen a 250 percent increase in use of telemedicine technology over the past year. And overall, scheduled video visits have grown by more than 800 percent, with patients using their digital tablet, phone or laptop to conduct an appointment from their home.

She said there are several reasons for this increase, with improved technology making telemedicine interactions more satisfying and immunocompromised patients having less exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses when they are able to avoid visiting a clinic, hospital or doctor’s office.

“We believe that we’re going to continue to see growth, and this is going to become the new norm for our patients as well as other aspects of telehealth,” Emfield Rowlett said, adding that Intermountain Healthcare uses telemedicine technology to conduct its Cancer 101 educational program for cancer patients learning about the process for treating the disease.

“That’s becoming more and more common for patients moving forward in this day and age. We’re wanting to make sure that the telehealth appointments are the same level as face-to-face appointments, or even better.”

A similar spike in telemedicine usage has been seen at Stanford Children’s Hospital where Kadamari Beelwar, manager of telehealth and unified communications, said remote visits have increased from 375 per month to more than 18,000 since the onset of the pandemic.

Beelwar said the shift has given patients a feeling of having more agency and participation in how they are being cared for, with work underway to make the telemedicine experience as satisfying as possible going forward.

“What we are seeing is a change is not only in how the patients want to receive care, but they want to be able to make a decision on how they want to receive it, how and when and where. Because of that, we’ve seen a massive consumerization of health care with a patient being able to make decisions, and the providers having the ability to help them out,” she said.

“We’ve seen a massive change and I feel very confident that the technology is going to enable people to not only fix the issues we should be seeing in person, but enhance the experience as well.”

Measuring improvements in telemedicine

To make those improvements in experience and leverage the full potential of telemedicine technology, health care leaders are looking for valuable data about how long a patient or practitioner spends waiting on a call for the appointment to begin, total consultation time, and what feature sets are being used.

Emfield Rowett said her group tracks how much time elapses from when a referral is made to when a consultation takes place with an oncologist, with surveys after appointments helping to gather feedback on the overall experience.

Beelwar said Stanford Children’s looks at time-related metrics involved in a visit while also measuring technical data like packet loss and latency that can negatively impact the quality of a telemedicine consultation.

While certain specialties like speech therapy are currently an easy fit for remote appointments, advancements in home health care could make cancer treatment more plausible and effective for telemedicine technology.

Adding in the potential of artificial intelligence and improved data analysis and monitoring to telemedicine technology will make remote visits the norm in the future, Beelwar said.

“Those gaps, once they stop closing we can definitely lean towards telemedicine providing a better benefit. In the meantime, I feel that both the remote and in-person modalities are here to stay. We should do both as technologies continue to grow and work on this path, and assume that in-person can be utilized in certain workflows whereas telemedicine would be effective and may be a better experience.”

Vyopta helps leading hospitals and clinics such as UVA, Stanford, and the VA provide the best telemedicine experience possible so they can extend care to even more patients, during the pandemic and beyond.

Chad Swiatecki

Chad Swiatecki is a business writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Billboard, New York Daily News, Austin Business Journal, Austin American-Statesman and many other print and online publications. He lives in Austin, Texas and is a graduate of Michigan State University. Find him online on LinkedIn.