The COVID-19 pandemic changed nearly every aspect of our lives. From the way we work to how our kids learn, we have been forced to think differently about how we connect with others. The pandemic also has altered our approach to healthcare by incorporating new technology to reach patients outside the walls of a doctor’s office or hospital, fundamentally changing the healthcare system. As we begin to envision a future beyond the pandemic, here are three ways healthcare will be different.
Telehealth adoption skyrocketed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and by most estimates fast-tracked the growth of digital health by 10 years. According to research compiled by healthcare organization Kaiser Permanente, nearly 75% of people say they will consider telehealth if they develop COVID-19 symptoms and 66% say their willingness to try virtual care has increased due to the pandemic. Now that people have had the opportunity to use telehealth and have been satisfied with the results, they are likely to continue using it for their healthcare needs.
As more patients choose virtual care options, mobile technology will also play a key role in helping people manage their health and wellness. Smartphones and other devices have revolutionized many aspects of our lives beyond entertainment and social media. We use our phones to get around by calling an Uber or Lyft and to purchase food, clothes, and other services. Some 85% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, and 15% depend on these devices for accessing the internet as they don’t have a broadband connection at home.
We’re already seeing people using their smartphone to support their health. From primary care visits to reviewing the data collected by their smartwatches and other devices, smartphones will continue to help people manage their health, obtain health services, and connect with their healthcare providers. Smartphones will also continue to play an important role in facilitating at-home testing. At Scanwell, we’re leveraging the power of smartphones to develop at-home tests that use our app and the smartphone camera to deliver clinical-grade results in fifteen minutes or less.
Pre-pandemic, virtual visits and other telehealth services took a backseat to in-person visits. The pandemic forced nearly every medical provider to use telehealth in some way, either because of lockdowns, to maintain social distancing measures, or to care for patients who were concerned about going out in public. While telehealth and virtual visits will never completely replace in-person visits, they will certainly supplement them. One advantage to virtual visits is the opportunity for clinicians and caregivers to meet patients’ family members who might not normally attend an in-person visit. They also can meet their patients’ pets, check out the food they have in their fridge and get a better sense of the type of environment they are living in.
For telehealth and virtual visits to continue, however, doctors will need three things to align: 1) the technology to do the visits; 2) reimbursement from payers for these visits; and 3) regulations around seeing patients who don’t live in the state where a doctor is licensed. During the pandemic, doctors were reimbursed for virtual visits at the same rate as in-person visits. However, it is not likely insurers will continue reimbursing at this rate. The regulation piece was temporarily addressed by state medical boards during the pandemic, allowing for expanded capacity in areas where there was a surge in COVID-19 patients. However, these regulations will likely need to be made permanent at the federal level for virtual care to continue successfully.
Many at-home COVID-19 tests were authorized by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) during the pandemic, and it’s likely the agency’s receptiveness to at-home testing will continue. As the FDA gets more comfortable with and approves more of these tests, consumers are going to expect and demand them. In addition, companies like Scanwell will continue investing resources to bring these tests to market.
At-home testing also has the potential to improve accessibility to care, one of the social determinants of health. For example, many people living in rural areas were not within driving distance of COVID-19 testing sites that were set up early in the pandemic, yet nearly 90% of Americans live within 15 minutes of a Walmart. We can increase accessibility to testing by stocking retail stores with at-home tests and other equipment needed to conduct virtual visits and allow people to manage their health at home.
At Scanwell, our technology addresses accessibility and improves the patient experience. Our tests are designed to be performed and analyzed at home using our smartphone app, all but eliminating the need to drive to a doctor’s office or send samples back to a lab. By allowing people to have virtual doctor visits and to test at home on their own schedule, we are ensuring that the future of healthcare is accessible for people everywhere. Whether they're in rural areas, are parents facing a childcare crisis while working from home, or simply trying to maintain social distancing measures, virtual care and at-home testing improve healthcare delivery. The past year has been trying, with individuals, schools, businesses, and governments all anticipating a "return to normal." However for healthcare in the post-pandemic world, a new normal awaits.