If you didn’t consider modern society to be digital before 2020, you’d have a hard time making that argument now.

When governments started imposing social restrictions and stay-at-home mandates, people were pushed even further into the digital world. Companies, especially those that relied on in-person services or activities, had to pivot their operations.

While many industries scrambled to compensate for drops in demand, healthcare had a different story to tell.

Since its onset, the pandemic has tested the limits of our healthcare system. To combat anticipated influxes in hospital-visits and capacity/contagion concerns, the government lifted telehealth restrictions in March.

Pre-pandemic, remote health care services accounted for only 16% of total visits, according to a Sermo survey. That number surged to 57% in April.

In a tech-infused world, widespread adoption of telemedicine services makes sense. But will that logic become a stable and ongoing reality?

Telehealth’s Obstacles

While there isn’t a consensus around its origin, forms of telemedicine existed in the mid-1900s. Telehealth has come a long way since then, but it still has several obstacles to overcome before it can become a healthcare staple.

Integration & infrastructure issues

First, there’s the trouble of integrating telehealth functionality into existing healthcare systems. The technology exists. There are devices out there that enable physicians to remotely monitor vital signs such as pulse and blood pressure. But the actual application of these devices is another story.

Why? Because many providers don’t have the infrastructure to support these remote services. Those that do can still face connectivity problems.

Financial limitations

Telehealth faces financial limitations from a couple of perspectives.

According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals are expected to endure hefty financial losses at the hands of COVID-19 – to the tune of $323 billion in 2020. In other words, hospitals aren’t exactly incentivized to invest in technology and infrastructure enhancements right now.

Second, reimbursement by payors for telehealth services is far from guaranteed. To date, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded telehealth reimbursement several times during the COVID-19 crisis, but once the emergency concludes – what then?

For telehealth services to become a mainstay in our healthcare system, they must be sustainable.

Cybersecurity risks

Data privacy remains a pervasive issue in the healthcare community. While HIPAA policy enforcement eased to allow providers to focus on managing the COVID-19 outbreak, that won’t remain the case forever.

The healthcare industry is prone to costly data breaches. Once the crisis finally concludes, providers and policymakers will have to deal with the ongoing concerns surrounding cybersecurity and telehealth services.

 

Telehealth services are crucial in our current environment. But what will happen in a post-COVID-19 world?