We all remember our first telehealth visit–likely in the throes of quarantine, connecting with a psychologist, dermatologist, or general practitioner over Zoom, and picking up your prescription at a no-contact window.
Since the pandemic, the entire paradigm has shifted. From 2019 to 2020, telehealth insurance claims under both Medicare and private insurance plans jumped from less than 1% to over 7%.
This brought a whole new meaning to the term “house call.” The traditional model of healthcare delivery has been thrown out the window in favor of home caregivers, technology that tracks patients’ health data at home, and the prevalence of virtual doctor’s visits.
This revolution has not only the pandemic to thank, but also technological advancements, demographic shifts (those covered by Medicare or Medicaid are more likely to use telehealth services; people of color are far more likely to use audio-based telemedicine than white people), and the simple matter of patient preferences.
Once patients have had their healthcare needs met from home, it’s a tough ask to get them to return to that uncomfortable doctor’s office environment. What’s more, there’s been an increase in recognition of the value and effectiveness of home care for managing certain health conditions (especially those that require chronic, around-the-clock check-ins, like diabetes and certain heart conditions).
When it comes to seniors, hiring a home caregiver (even a friend or family member via CDPAP) can give both the patient and their loved ones peace of mind as they contend with the health challenges that come with aging.
An influx of technological advancements in recent years has made home care a more viable option for many. In the aftermath of the height of the pandemic, telemedicine remains the preferred method for many–when a doctor’s advice is needed, it’s no longer immediately necessary to leave home.
Remote monitoring devices have also become more practical for a variety of conditions–whether it’s weight, blood pressure, pulse, or blood glucose that needs to be tracked, the patient or their caregiver can take notes and consult an M.D., all from the comfort of home. Even wearable health tech has made a difference when it comes to home care. Devices like the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Oura ring have become increasingly accurate and offer more types of data than ever before. Notifications can help a patient track ovulation, alert them of a high heart rate or AFib, catch respiratory issues during sleep, or even take an ECG.
Technologies like these wearable watches and rings, more traditional monitors, and even Zoom have helped keep hospital readmission numbers down, cutting down on hospital overcrowding. They’ve given patients agency–they can take part in ensuring the quality of their care, using the data they track themselves.
Whether you suffer from severe white coat syndrome or are simply inconvenienced by the need to travel to a specialist’s office, home care offers a far more comforting and low-stress experience.
Studies show that this sense of relief means telehealth creates increased patient satisfaction and well-being. Home care offers a more holistic approach, and the ability to tailor personalized care plans to any individual’s needs and preferences. Beyond the anxiety relief it provides, home care also fosters a sense of independence and autonomy, which can be empowering for elderly patients and those battling chronic conditions.
But home care isn’t just beneficial for the patient–the entire healthcare system is feeling the positive effects as well. Fewer in-person patients means an alleviation of strain on staff at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Costs are cut by about $361 per patient that chooses telehealth.
And healthcare access has drastically improved, with the ability to more easily reach underserved and remote populations. In fact, pre-pandemic, telehealth’s initial purpose was providing care to such hard-to-reach groups (it all began with a remote ECG in 1906, followed by the common use of the radio to offer medical advice to sailors on ships in the 1920s).
But telehealth is not a utopian solution without its challenges. Home care is much harder to regulate, and privacy concerns abound when private medical information is shared over the Internet. Since the telehealth boom of the last few years began, there has yet to be a sanction of standardized protocols (only 17 countries state that they have clear regulations in place).
Moreover, when patients meet with multiple doctors separately and remotely, especially without a caregiver present, communication can get lost. A well-coordinated care team that keeps one another up to date is essential to ensuring the best care possible, and while doable from home, it can be more of a challenge than when everyone is in the same room.
Providing care remotely is an entirely new skill for most doctors, and at-home caregivers may not be up to speed in all the areas they need to be to provide all of a patient’s essential care at home. There is a need for readily available, ongoing training for home care providers (especially those with no formal medical training) in order to ensure a standard of quality for at-home care.
But despite these drawbacks, we’ve all seen the power of home care in providing a whole new dimension to the healthcare industry since 2020. The potential for that transformation to continue is promising, especially as new standards for privacy, communication, and caregiver training emerge.
It seems telehealth is here to stay, especially as a near supermajority in the Senate recently backed the CONNECT for Health Act, which cements telemedicine’s future, expands its coverage under Medicare, and makes it easier for patients and doctors to connect, thereby improving patient outcomes.
While home care may be difficult to regulate, the ease of stress that it offers is tough to beat. In tandem with the aforementioned technological advancements, home care also provides a generally more holistic approach and the ability for patients to participate in tracking their own health trends.
Not only is telehealth empowering for elderly patients and those living with chronic diseases, it can even make home caregivers feel more in the loop on their patients’ state of being.
Since its inception over a century ago, remote healthcare has helped healthcare professionals reach even the most remote populations. The American Medical Association predicts that the integration of new technologies will only become more seamless, with imminent integration of on-call chat boxes, new wearable sensors, and at-home symptom management systems.
So while we may be back in the office (at least some of the time), it appears we won’t be going back to the doctor anytime soon.