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Virtual vs. In-Person Visits: Is Virtual Here to Stay?

Throughout the course of the pandemic, there’s been many trends and adjustments in healthcare, but one of the biggest trends we've seen has been the use of telemedicine and virtual care. The use of virtual healthcare skyrocketed with the threat of COVID-19 in the air, but will it remain an option after the pandemic ends?

 

There’s many differing opinions on how much telehealth will stick around after coronavirus, so let’s take a look at how it has worked during the pandemic. 

 

As previously mentioned, the use of telehealth went up drastically with all of the social distancing measures in place. Before the pandemic engulfed the world, telehealth visits accounted for less than 1% of all medical encounters. But after finding out about the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, telemedicine peaked at about37% of all medical encounters in May, decreased to around 22% in July, and has remained at about 15% since August. 

 

One of the largest barriers to the widespread use of telehealth at the beginning of the pandemic was the lack of insurance coverage. However, this changed in March of 2020, when the Center for Medicine and Medicaidannounced that they had expanded coverage for telemedicine and made it equivalent to in-person visits. This made it so that virtual visits could be paid at the same rate as in-person visits. Once the CMS announced this expanded coverage, many private health insurance companies followed suit and expanded their coverage as well, opening the door for more widespread use of telehealth. 

 

This was a big step for the expansion of telehealth, but the question remained: Does telehealth really work? 

 

A study performed by The College of Family Physicians of Canada, found that the diagnostic accuracy of virtual visits was between71% and 91%. This shows that the diagnostic accuracy of telemedicine is on par with in-person visits. In fact, some fields of medicine, such a behavioral health, may be even better suited for virtual visits rather than in-person. With virtual visits, patients are in their own homes where they are more comfortable, which can be beneficial for practitioners who are trying to diagnose a mental health issue.

 

Although telemedicine has been extremely beneficial for both doctors and patients throughout the pandemic, there are still some downsides that need to be addressed. 

 

Bad connectivity and not enough bandwidth:When all the technology works well, telemedicine can be very effective and convenient, but that's not always the case. Connectivity issues such as poor audio or video quality can be a big problem with both patients and doctors, and lead to lots of frustration on all ends. Some rural patients do not have the bandwidth to support video and some people do not have internet access at all making telehealth services completely useless for them. 

 

Some diagnosis require in-person visits:There’s some medical issues that simply cannot be diagnosed and treated virtually, and require patients to visit a clinic in-person. Furthermore, there's routine checkups that have to be done in-person, such as a sonogram for a pregnant woman. Telemedicine, at least as we know it, will not be able to replace these types of visits in the near future. 

 

Lack of consistency: Another issue that patients have had with virtual visits, is the lack of consistency. Every clinic has its own method of booking appointments and can use difference technologies. One visit may be over skype while another could be over zoom, and this lack of technological consistency has been troublesome for some patients who have been seeking virtual care. 

 

Although there are some limitations with telehealth, its benefits have been proven over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. That brings us to the big question: Will virtual health visits stick around after the coronavirus?

 

While there’s no clear answer to how much telehealth will be utilized when the world returns to normal, there is a general consensus that there is space for virtual visits in the healthcare landscape. Some of the regulatory and payment concerns have already been solved with many insurers starting to cover telehealth the same as in-person visits, which opens the door for telehealth to continue after the pandemic. Additionally, certain fields such as mental and behavioral health have seen benefits from using telemedicine, and virtual visits will likely continue to have a strong impact for these specialized visits. 

 

With that being said, healthcare facilities should be prepared to start seeing more patients for routine visits now that the vaccine rollout is underway. 

 

Vaccines are being administered, but that doesn’t mean that all safety measures should be abandoned. Healthcare facilities that are beginning to see more patients for in-person visits still have safety measures in place to make sure that COVID-19 doesn't spread among patients. Many facilities are doingtemperature checks and screening for other coronavirus symptoms before patients enter. Masks are still required in these facilities, and other measures are being taken to limit contact between patients. 

 

One example of this is instead of checking in and sitting in the waiting room, patients are asked to wait in their cars until they receive a text message letting them know that the doctor is ready to see them. This helps limit the interpatient contact by a lot, and there will surely be many more examples of innovative measures to ensure the safety of patients in the coming months. 

 

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities should also make sure that they have all the best equipment and supplies in place to handle more patients in-person again. Over the course of the pandemic, many facilities had to be flexible and use their equipment in different ways. Hospitals should make sure that all of their equipment is still in working order, and that they are prepared with supplies for more patients. 

 

For any medical equipment needs, Lakeside Manufacturing can take care of it. Lakeside offers plenty of great product solutions for all equipment needs, and will even work with you to customize the perfect equipment for your facility! Get in touch, and we can help take your facility to the next level.