Telehealth services peaked in 2020, with over 50% of all outpatient care being delivered virtually at one point due to coronavirus disease (COVID) restrictions, improved reimbursement and positive regulatory changes. While we may not touch that ceiling again for a long time, it has certainly created a new floor, with many estimating that at least 20–30% of all care will be delivered via telehealth in 2021 and beyond.
To understand more about what might differ in 2021 compared with 2020, we asked a diverse group of telehealth experts to share what they think will be different across people, process, and technology. Some telehealth experts stressed the importance of nurses and other paramedical personnel using telehealth more aggressively in 2021, especially for chronic care and remote monitoring. Many emphasized that telehealth will grow to become part of normal practice among a larger number of specialties.
Interestingly, this may already be happening more than we realize because of the extent of non-reimbursable care being delivered virtually post-procedure and between visits. Other experts pointed to the importance of political, regulatory, and other process changes that are still needed to expand telehealth services. Of course, everyone hopes that reimbursement will continue and/or expand for all forms of virtual care.
The majority of predictions, however, center on the continued advancement of technology to improve the access, speed, efficiency, and quality of telehealth services for all. Our futurists see a world of virtual care powered by remote device integration to increase the capture of important data, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) to make a distant visit seem closer, and by incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to help with efficiency and quality in so many ways