In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Gladwell describes the tipping point as, “That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” That moment oftentimes varies depending on whether it’s a social change, a new technology, or an innovative service, but once it takes hold, the change suddenly becomes the “new normal”. After all, there was a time when the idea of getting into a stranger’s car for a ride was once farfetched and dangerous. Now, it’s called Uber.
The healthcare industry has experienced several tipping points over the years. Once seen as “nice to have”, digital tools like online scheduling, access to health records via online portals, and live chat are all well-established as necessary services and features to increase patient access. Now, telemedicine is topping the list of trends that are reshaping the healthcare landscape and adoption is quickly reaching a tipping point where virtual care will soon become the “new normal”.
With the rapid rise of telemedicine, many clinics are left wondering whether it’s too late to adopt telemedicine as a service line. The answer, of course, is a resounding “no”. As the future of healthcare continues to trend towards a virtual care option, now is the opportune time to adopt telemedicine services into a clinical practice.
Here’s why it’s not too late for clinics to think about telemedicine and why adoption rates will rise as telemedicine experiences its own tipping point.
Adoption rates are still climbing
Telemedicine adoption has been steadily gaining ground over the last decade. According to an American Hospital Association (AHA) survey, the percent of hospitals implementing full or partial telehealth services has grown from 36% in 2010 to 76% in 2017. Similarly, patients using telemedicine increased from 0.35 million in 2013 to over 7 million in 2017. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine adoption is surging even further.
Forrester analysts estimate coronavirus-related virtual visits could top 900 million in 2020. With patients rapidly adopting virtual care as a preferred option to receive care moving forward, healthcare providers are quickly following suit. In fact, a March 2020 SSCG Media Group study, 53% of the healthcare practitioners surveyed said they were using telemedicine because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, but they had not used telemedicine prior to this pandemic.
With a history of steady growth and a surge in recent adoption, telemedicine is on track to be valued at nearly $175 billion by 2026, according to estimates by Global Markets Insights. It’s safe to say that as telemedicine adoption rates continue to climb, it’s the perfect time for clinics to incorporate telemedicine service as demand continues to increase and government restrictions loosen.
Government restrictions are loosening
Until recently, widespread adoption of telemedicine has been hindered for several reasons, like government restrictions, regulations on reimbursement, and licensing across state lines, to name a few. However, the coronavirus pandemic has quickly changed the telemedicine landscape for the better. The government already announced numerous changes to telemedicine legislations and the loosening of restrictions, which make access to telemedicine easier for both patients and providers.
Although the steps to ease telemedicine restrictions are temporary right now, there are already discussions around keeping the loosening of restrictions in place moving forward. “There are going to be changes in the practice of medicine going forward based on all this use of telehealth. We are quite certain of that,” says Sandy Marks, the Senior Assistant Director for Federal Affairs at the American Medical Association. “We are definitely going to be pushing for some of these new policy flexibilities to remain in place,” Marks continues.
As restrictions loosen and momentum for permanent changes to legislation grows, telemedicine is poised to remain a significant healthcare option long into the future. In fact, 33% of survey respondents stated they’d leave current providers for those who offered telemedicine access. That’s why adopting services now will only serve to prepare clinical practices for the future of how healthcare and treatment will be delivered.
Coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon
Researchers around the world are hard at work developing a vaccine for COVID-19. However, most estimates anticipate a vaccine won’t be wildly available for another 12-18 months. With patients reluctant to rush into emergency departments and clinics due to fears around contracting the virus, telemedicine will serve as the bridge that connects patients with access to healthcare for the foreseeable future.
One telemedicine service that will see a significant demand will be behavioral health resources and telepsychiatry services. COVID-19 is already having a significant impact on the mental health of millions of Americans, with a recent survey finding that 45% of respondents stating their mental health is being impacted by the pandemic. Psychiatric patients delaying treatment are already causing a surge in emergency departments and clinics. As the pandemic continues, the need for telepsychiatry services to reduce patient volumes and provide care to psychiatric patients will become even more important.
Don’t be left behind
Telemedicine is at the tipping point for widespread adoption by patients and healthcare providers. Clinics that aren’t already offering telemedicine services or don’t have plans to expand service lines to meet the growing demand run the risk of being left behind.
It’s not too late to start offering patients telemedicine services. With the tipping point for telemedicine finally here, incorporating telemedicine services into a clinical practice now will prepare for the future of how healthcare is delivered.
To learn how a telemedicine partner can help grow a successful telemedicine service, schedule a demo.