The future of American healthcare lies in convenience, access, and affordability: in other words, telemedicine. Government stay-at-home orders coupled with ongoing uncertainty have thrust telehealth technology into the spotlight, with government officials (and the general public) taking note. The pandemic also revealed gaping inequalities in patient health—a problem often worsened by lack of access to medical care. The need for telemedicine was more urgent than ever.
The surging telehealth tidal wave has the potential to bring about a modern age healthcare transformation. However, as with any bout of sudden and unpredictable growth, telehealth faces potential concerns, challenges, and risks on the path ahead.
So what is telehealth?
Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, “telehealth” refers to the technologies used to provide healthcare from a distance while “telemedicine” describes the actual services patients are receiving. Think of “telehealth” as the app you use to book a medical appointment and “telemedicine” as the appointment itself.
These interconnected industries aren’t entirely new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has laid the groundwork for widespread adoption of remote and home-delivered healthcare.
Even before the pandemic, there were many burgeoning companies that fell under the telehealth umbrella. TalkSpace provides mental health counseling over text, Hims meets male wellness needs with everything from vitamins to erectile dysfunction pills, and Lola ships feminine health products direct to your door. There are even AI-powered apps like Flo to help users stay on top of their health and symptoms.
Who is telehealth for?
While anyone with access to—and the ability to use—technology can take advantage of telehealth benefits, it’s currently being utilized the most by young people. Being the most technologically savvy and comfortable online, it should come as no surprise that nearly a quarter of telehealth clients from 2014-18 fell between the ages of 31 and 40.
It also seems that women utilize telehealth services more than men. The American Medical Association reported that two-thirds of overall telemedicine claims were made by women. This could also be explained by the fact that women are 33% more likely to seek medical care in general than men, and not a trend exclusive to telemedicine.
MarketSmiths Case Study
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What are the drawbacks to telehealth?
Stats on telehealth continue to record inequalities in who uses—and thus benefits from—telemedicine. In 2020, affluent areas saw telehealth use at a rate of 48 per 10,000 patients, compared to poorer areas where only 15 in 10,000 patients had telehealth consultations.
These same inequalities in telehealth use appear when comparing metropolitan and rural areas. Metropolitan patients had 50 visits per 10,000 people, compared to rural patients who had 31 visits per 10,000 patients. Metropolitan residents often have more access to in-person healthcare services, and it seems this trend persists even with telemedicine.
Factors such as lower-quality internet access, lower technological literacy rates, and less access to computers all contribute to these disparities. As part of efforts to address healthcare inequalities, the Department of Health and Human Services announced in September 2021 it would distribute nearly $20 million to strengthen access to telehealth services in rural and underserved communities across the country.
Shockingly, prior to the pandemic, telehealth services only reached about 4% of the population. Insurance providers have a reputation for refusing to cover anything they deem “experimental” or “unproven,” and this was a big reason for the stunted growth. Millions of insured telehealth patients received bills for copays or even full balances due, there are disagreements over whether phone calls are billable, and confusion over what constitutes as “in-network care,” given the seemingly limitless sea of service providers popping up.
Furthermore, the relaxation of telemedicine regulations presents new privacy risks, warns the Harvard Medical School. Healthcare breaches have nearly doubled since 2018 and continued to climb through the first half of 2021. No one wants to feel as if their data is inadequately protected, least of all something as private and personal as health data.
Harvard advised that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reinstate restrictions on the use of communication apps like FaceTime and Skype for telemedicine. Instead, they advocated for telehealth providers to use dedicated healthcare-specific products with “key security features such as encryption.”
The benefits of telehealth
Despite drawbacks, telehealth can act as a critical resource for those that require specialist consultation but do not necessarily need a hospital visit. Particularly as hospitals became sites for both the treatment and spread of COVID-19, problems that did not require in-person treatment were quickly shifted online. Even prior to the pandemic (2014-18) 84% of telehealth claims were unrelated to hospital care.
Aside from the practicality of not needing to leave the house to get the right care, telehealth also allows healthcare providers to:
- Control Infectious Illness: Having infectious sick people crowded into one building increases exposure. Pre-screening patients and keeping them out of the office as much as possible can improve safety for the general populace.
- Lower Costs: Telehealth can reduce overhead costs associated with exam rooms and office support, while enabling physicians to maximize their hourly rates and see more patients. Patients can also save money on transportation, lost wages, and child care.
- Remote Monitoring: Data from scales, blood pressure monitors, and blood sugar tests can help doctors keep tabs on patients with diabetes, heart failure, and other chronic conditions. Patients will be able to fill out their own health surveys on their mobile devices, which bedside nurses can access to learn more about the patient’s condition.
- Reduce Burnout: Telehealth can and will yield more patient-centric, collaborative care with improved outcomes as medical staff feels better equipped to do their jobs.
How do you market telehealth?
As content marketers, we’re keenly interested in the movers and shakers in telehealth and how they engage their target audience. After all, we are in a “Brave New World.” Many people are accessing telemedicine—not always by choice, but by necessity. So how is telehealth being marketed to the tech-savvy and inexperienced alike?
Confidence-building is key
Naturally, with anything new, concerns will surface: Is it safe? Is it affordable? Teladoc’s messaging has attracted audiences by highlighting telemedicine as a new “convenience,” while assuaging concerns by promoting “high-quality” care. Take this reassuring pitch for example: “Teladoc’s board-certified doctors average more than 15 years of experience. This extensive network of 3,100 physicians, therapists, and counselors is able to provide expert care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in all 50 states. Teladoc reports that 92% of member’s issues are resolved without the need for a follow-up visit.” Pretty convincing, right?
The right medium: the right message
Equipped with the knowledge that those most likely to look for therapy online are millennial women, Cerebral turned its attention to social media marketing where it can find them. The app has its own TikTok account where it posts shareable listicles, offering insights into mental illness. A post like this one addresses “signs you might be struggling with your mental health” and lists symptoms like “isolating yourself” and “lack of motivation” against an aesthetic city-scape backdrop. It looks no different than some of the more somber TikTok content out there, yet the accompanying @getcerebral tag functions as a subtle call to action.
Understanding user needs
Hims is another example of a telehealth company that knows its audience. The website, looking to appeal to its demographic of professional men, keeps things simple and pithy. Short sentences and the promise of an even shorter sign-up process cuts through the usual jargon. With “straight to the point” language, even the busiest of users can take a few seconds to see what Hims is offering.
What’s next for the telehealth industry?
Gianrico Farrugia, MD, former CEO of the Mayo Clinic, says that the adoption of telehealth has improved quality of care and patient satisfaction while reducing costs. The seamless incorporation of telehealth into routine care even reduced hospital readmission rates by 50%. “The need for hospitals is not going to go away,” Farrugia says, but “it will be a very different type of facility. We have to design hospitals that come to the patient.” In short, telehealth is not going anywhere!
U.S. telehealth market revenue is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of over 28% from 2020-2026, according to Business Wire. The success of any telehealth-related business depends upon clear, consistent messaging and an effective strategy that invites all relevant audiences to the table. MarketSmiths can deliver just that. Contact our team of telehealth content strategists, writers, and editors to discuss your content needs.