America’s $3.8 trillion health care system today is fraught with inefficiency, poor access, and a focus on chronic disease reaction versus prevention. The impact of this on healthcare is particularly troubling in rural areas, where there are massive shortages of physicians – while 20% of our population lives in rural America, only 11% of physicians do. Supplementing this is the fact that Americans waste a significant portion of their time at a doctor’s office not actually with a provider.
Breaking down barriers to access care is a challenge that healthcare has been tackling for years. Rural residents in particular “experience health care workforce shortages; often lack subspecialty care (e.g., oncology), critical care units, or emergency facilities; have limited transportation options; and experience longer time to services caused by distance.” Radical technological advancements and increased access to digital devices has primed telehealth to step in as a solution to the many barriers faced by communities.
Enter telehealth: our opportunity to improve efficiency within the system, lessen the time that clients spend waiting for providers, increase access Americans have with their doctors, and reduce costs across the board.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines telehealth as, “the use of technology to deliver healthcare, health information or health education at a distance.” This alternative to traditional care has clear and unmatched qualities, ranging from immediate care, health advice, 24/7 communication channels, video visits between providers and patients, simplified cost structures, and increased accessibility.
Telehealth’s impact is growing. And fast. In 2015, over 15 million Americans received some form of remote medical care, and the American Telemedicine Association expects this number to continue to grow by 30% year over year. The industry will be valued at $36.2 billion in 2020, over double the market value of $14.3 billion in 2014. There’s no doubt integrating 21 century technology and health is a laudable and ground-breaking development swiftly mending the landscape of healthcare.
Access to (and dependency on) the internet, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and big data has reached unimaginable levels, supporting the rise of digital health. The percentage of adults in the U.S. with a smartphone jumped from 35% to 68% between 2011 and 2015 and 2 million phone applications have been made available to the public since 2008. This thriving digital landscape infers that telehealth’s role in healthcare is more pertinent than ever and is here to stay.
The CDC’s 2015 decision to recognize online interventions as meeting their evidence-based standard for their National Diabetes Prevention Program elucidates that the revolutionary ideal of telehealth is inevitable and happening now. Some insurance companies have likewise jumped on the bandwagon through reimbursing telehealth care. As telemedicine continues to gain ground in medicine, public health, and society there’s no question a symbiotic relationship between healthcare professionals, systems, and telehealth platforms are key to victories in the healthcare’s future. Platforms like Healthie, the client management and telehealth platform designed for nutritional care, will be essential in bridging providers with their patients, particularly in facilitating relationships that contribute to healthcare outcomes.