Covid-19 continues to change the way all of us interact with each other. While we may no longer be in lockdown, we are still forced to find new ways to accomplish our jobs and education, interact with each other socially, and even look after ourselves.
Our health, physically and mentally, has been a challenge for many of us to maintain throughout the pandemic. Thankfully, medical professionals and researchers have risen to the cause and continue to do so. One of the most important ways they’ve done so is through an increase in telehealth.
The Examination of Telehealth
Telehealth isn’t some new invention born from the pandemic. It has existed for many years before that, and as an idea for even longer. In fact, as early as the 1920s, radios have been used to give medical advice to ships at sea.
For as long as people have been getting sick, there have been those finding new ways to administer relief. The challenge has been, and continues to be, moving forward with new techniques and technologies safely and thoughtfully. From surgery, to vaccines and medication, to telehealth, new technological achievements have meant improved health for all.
But with advancements can come skepticism. One of the chief causes of this skepticism is a perceived lack of quality. With telehealth, people are concerned they won’t receive the same care and attention as they get with face-to-face visits with their doctor or therapist. There is something reassuring about going into the doctor’s office (even if we say we hate it) and talking in person with a professional.
A 2019 study showed that despite the majority of people never having done telehealth (66 percent), most also say they will choose a doctor who offers telehealth over one who doesn’t (81 percent). Why is there a seeming contradiction in the thought processes of those studied? One common reason was that many people don’t know if their insurance covers telehealth. Another is the concern over the quality of the visit.
This is such a big concern, that multiple studies have been done regarding the quality of telehealth versus in-person visits. The results are surprising. A Massachusetts General Hospital study concluded that 62.6% of patients and 59.0% of clinicians reported no difference in “the overall quality of the visit.”
Additional studies went on to show that what patients valued most—and which telehealth was equally good if not better at providing than in-person visits—was the attention they received from their doctor. If the patient and doctor had an open and understanding relationship, the method of service didn’t affect much.
Telehealth won’t ever take over the health and medical field entirely, but study after study has shown that it can be a vital and important part of your ability to take care of yourself. As we continue to move into the post-pandemic world, telehealth is likely to become a more natural part of our everyday lives and conversations.
A Case of the Blues
This is a good thing too, because telehealth has never been more needed. The CDC has reported that there was a 154 percent increase in telehealth visits in March of 2020 as compared to March of 2019. That was when the pandemic had first hit the United States. This number is further emphasized by a McKinsey & Co. report, which estimates physicians seeing between 50 and 175 times more patients via telehealth than they did prior to the pandemic.
The pandemic certainly played a huge role in these numbers as in-person visits were limited. But our health concerns go beyond that as well. Studies show that nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. This increases to one in four at a global scale. And almost two-thirds of these people never seek help from a health professional.
These are harrowing numbers. Our need to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally has never been greater. And while doctors and therapists do all they can to help, the demand is outpacing qualified providers. With an increase in telehealth, physicians can see more people and react sooner to health crises than they otherwise would be capable of doing.
And that is just one of the many benefits of telehealth. Others include:
- Increased access to health care for those in rural areas
- Improved follow-up between physicians and patients
- An increase in comfortability as patients can remain at home
- Reduction in transportation or obligation barriers (such as day-care, or public transportation)
As more people become aware of telehealth and its benefits, hopefully the quality of care will increase right alongside our own health. We’ve all been through a lot this past year and a half. While our challenges aren’t over yet, hopefully we will all be able to receive the help we need to maintain our physical and mental well-being.