Will Telehealth Remain After COVID? Should It?

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The global market for telehealth is projected to grow from $25.4 billion this year to $55.6 billion by 2025.

August 26, 2020
Eran Orr, CEO of XR Health, says he thinks a 2D interface — just talking to a doctor or mental health provider on Zoom or any other online meeting platform — is not enough to treat people.
“If you want to treat someone, and not just prescribe meds, but actually conduct treatment, I think that relying only on 2D interface is about 30% of what you can do,” he says. “I think that is a major difference in what we are trying to bring to the table. We are bringing an entire 360-degree environment that is closer to the real-world experience. Once you put that virtual reality headset on, you are stepping into our treatment program.”
Steven Lin
, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford Medicine, says VR health-based treatments are an “extension rather than a disruption of the patient-physician relationship.”
“The primary advantage of VR-powered telehealth is improved patient access to drug-free treatments for problems like chronic pain, mental health, and musculoskeletal injuries (i.e., physical therapy),” he says.
Possible cons, he says, are lack of insurance coverage and the need for patients to know how to work with VR technology. That may exclude lower-income people, who are more likely to lack insurance and reliable internet service, as well as older people who might be less technologically inclined.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that the challenges for older people are particularly troublesome. Their study revealed that more than a third of adults over 65 would have a hard time using telemedicine. This is especially true for older, low-income men in remote or rural areas, and even more so for those with disabilities or other conditions, the researchers say.
Researchers used 2018 data from more than 4,500 patients recorded in the National Health and Aging Trends, which studied Medicare patients ages 65 and older.
They found that about 38%, or 13 million older Americans, were not prepared for telehealth visits via video. Even with someone helping, 32% still could not make it work and 20% could not manage a telephone visit due to dementia or a hard time hearing or communicating.
Texts and Telephone Calls
For those patients who can’t get online, the doctors at telehealth company CallOnDoc text and call instead.

CallOnDoc
, founded in 2017 in Dallas, started as a traditional care facility, offering in-person care. The company began to notice that after patients scheduled appointments, they often wouldn’t show up. After it did a survey, doctors realized their customers’ social and economic barriers, as well as other problems, hindered them from attending appointments. To accommodate them, they decided to go to a mostly virtual model.
“We really take our patient experience seriously,” says Hattie Oshun, a physician assistant and co-founder and chief operating officer at
CallOnDoc
. “We want this to be a one-stop experience for our patients.”
She says before the pandemic, CallOnDoc had to explain telehealth to patients. But now, she says, “it’s a part of our everyday language.”
In addition to calls and texts, Oshun says CallOnDoc allows patients who live close to its office in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to see their doctors face-to-face.
Going forward, Oshun says, there are other industries that are left out of telehealth — like veterinarian and dental practices — that the company wants to add to its list of services.
She Likes Face-to-Face Visits
Elizabeth Reiner
, an entrepreneur who is a certified midwife in the Washington, D.C., area, understands the kind of deep relationships that are built through in-person meetings. Before the pandemic, she had no official office. Prenatal care, postpartum visits, and home births were done at her clients’ homes. COVID-19 changed that, and now, like others, she virtually meets her clients, but she still attends home births in person, and she has to occasionally draw patients’ blood.
“Some things can’t be done on Zoom,” she says.
To make the Zoom calls personal, Reiner says, she invites her clients to do spiritual practice, something she would normally do in person, to calm the mothers-to-be and their partners. Building that connection with patients, even though virtually, is key.
She says one thing she likes about telehealth is that she doesn’t have to wear a mask while talking to her clients. When she visits her clients’ homes, she does.
“I do think a lot is lost when we can’t see each other’s full faces,” she says. “I like doing telehealth visits in that we can see each other’s full faces.”
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