The COVID-19 pandemic altered a spectrum of elements in modern-day healthcare. While many of those temporary changes to protect patients and care providers were disruptive, one key change enhanced healthcare and how healthcare could be effectively delivered: telehealth.
While the pandemic has slowly settled, many patients and care providers continue to benefit from telehealth services. Telehealth is now becoming a more stable and well-used care model, but what does the future of telehealth look like from here? Additionally, how will heightened telehealth usage affect limited-English proficient (LEP) patients?
A Look at How COVID-19 Has Changed Telehealth Services
Telehealth was established long before the pandemic. As far back as 1879, the act of conducting over-the-phone visits with patients to lower the volume of in-office visits was mentioned in medical literature. While technology was available to support telehealth in many ways, far beyond simple phone calls, telehealth was still grossly underutilized by most organizations and providers until the pandemic.
When a global pandemic forced providers to find a way to offer care and stay safe, telehealth became a saving grace. In 2019, there were only 14 million telehealth visits. By 2020, that number had risen to 62 million. In 2021, 37% of adults had experienced a telehealth appointment in the prior 12 months.
The number of telehealth visits has dropped recently, which was expected post-pandemic. In 2022, roughly 25% of patients had a telehealth visit. However, by early 2023, a new trend was solidified. Telehealth medical claims were slowly on the rise. For example, the number of telehealth medical claims rose from 5.5% in December 2022 to 7.3% in January. Experts believe there will be a slow-and-steady rise in telehealth usage in the coming years, potentially even reaching numbers witnessed during the pandemic in the coming five years.
What Trends Are Now Driving Telehealth Popularity?
Hiccups and problems were evident during the pandemic when care providers had to adopt unfamiliar telehealth solutions quickly. Today, however, telehealth has proven valuable and beneficial for both providers and patients, and many of those initial issues have been worked through, making telehealth a viable ongoing option for care.
According to Mckinsey & Company, a few trends that are driving the continued success of telehealth services include:
Patients are more willing to use telehealth services
Providers are more willing to provide telehealth services
Regulatory changes now create wider-spread access and reimbursement
Telehealth technology is becoming more innovative and effective
How Will LEP Patients Be Affected by Telehealth Trends?
The 25.7 million LEP people in the U.S. have faced healthcare barriers and disparities due to lacking language access for years. From the beginning of the boom of telehealth usage amid the pandemic, it was clear that some of these populations could face similar issues with telehealth. Non-Hispanic white individuals were more likely to use telehealth services than Hispanics, African Americans, or Asians.
However, the telehealthcare model could bridge some gaps in care for LEP individuals. For example, telehealth makes care more accessible to patients that face socioeconomic challenges like lack of transportation, inability to miss work, or no childcare. Research in 2021 found that most people who had used telehealth in the prior four weeks were making less than $25,000 per year and relying on Medicaid insurance. A large portion of LEP individuals live on below-poverty-level incomes. Therefore, in theory, telehealth should make access to care easier for many LEP patients since robust telehealth technology offers the capability of incorporating language access solutions. For example, remotely accessible platforms can offer prompts in multiple languages so users of all languages can navigate the platform effectively.
Language Support: The Key to Making Telehealth Valuable for All Patients
The future of telehealth looks bright, but focusing on cultural competence and serving a diverse patient population must remain at the heart of making telehealth part of your organization. Making telehealth accessible for all people of every background and ethnicity requires effective language support. By integrating language support services with telehealth technology, LEP patients can also effectively use this modern form of care to enhance their health and care outcomes.