How COVID-19 Has Impacted Healthcare: Physician Sentiment and Telehealth
By Erin Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer, Sermo.
This year has presented a continuous string of unprecedented challenges around the world and in all aspects of life. Individuals, organizations and industries needed to adapt quickly to a “new normal,” which in some cases may prove to change the facets of healthcare delivery permanently.
Healthcare, typically known to be slow-moving with all of its complexities, has had to adjust rapidly to meet increasing patient cases and demands, creating problems which are hopefully only short term. For example, independent medical practices have been closing as they struggle to bring in revenue by losing patients “walking through the door.” In addition, over 1.4 million healthcare jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic and the AHA estimated that America’s hospitals could lose $202.6 billion by the end of June.
Conversely, the pandemic has spurred innovation, adoption of tools and galvanized more efficient processes that actually demonstrate better success for patients and physicians. Taking a step back to look at the bigger health system, practices may never go back to their pre-pandemic ways due to this success – whether in efficiency, patient outcomes, physician workload or otherwise – revealing the lasting impact of COVID-19.
While the pandemic has significantly impacted the number of patients coming to the clinic, it has also spurred physician adoption of remote and telehealth treatment. These changes not only serve more people and provide more patient-centric care (e.g. allowing flexibility in scheduling, taking less time off work, filling out paperwork online at a person’s own convenience) but can also aid providers in maintaining a high level of care while streamlining processes and efficiency of their work. For example, telehealth systems can integrate patient records easily into a check-up and physicians can observe environmental factors of a patient’s health that they would not get in-office.
It is clear that COVID-19 is changing how medicine is practiced, such as what technology is being implemented, how patients are receiving care and figuring out adjusted treatment regimens that may be more successful. So, how will the pandemic permanently change medicine and the patient-provider relationship? How do providers feel about this time of transition and what will healthcare look like after the pandemic?
Telehealth has been an essential tool that has demonstrated its full value during this time. Physicians recognize the loss of revenue of not having patients coming into their practice, so they have used different telehealth tools to create a “virtual front door” to continue treating patients and keeping their business afloat.
Our recent global Sermo survey of more than 1,000 physicians showed how COVID-19 caused a significant impact on patients coming into the clinic. The sharp decline in volume of in-patient visits forced physicians to adopt remote and telehealth treatment. Specifically, here are a few key data points from the survey:
- Remote and telehealth treatment has jumped, with over 90% of physicians treating patients remotely.
- Telemedicine tools are commonly used for remote treatment, particularly in the U.S. where 63% of healthcare professionals have used it during the COVID19 outbreak.
- Among physicians using telemedicine for consultation during the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly half (48%) are using it for the first time.
- When the outbreak ends, one-fifth of physicians using video conferencing and telemedicine tools expect to use them significantly more than before.
Telehealth is a prime example of a potential silver lining in the lasting impact of COVID-19, since the tools and resources have been available for years without resulting in these high levels of adoption. Now that providers have integrated telehealth into their daily routines, the value it provides has been realized for patients and physicians – whether it be fitting in a check-up without missing work or as a physician, seeing more patients with their records pulled up to easily integrate new information and allow more undistracted patient time.
Understanding physicians’ perspectives and actions during these times of great change is important to help shape the path forward more clearly. As evident by such high adoption rates of remote and telehealth technology, the “new normal” for patients and providers is really the next evolution of healthcare. The intersection between healthcare and technology is becoming one entity rather than a crossroads as the world enters the next era of medicine in a post COVID-19 world.