August 25, 2020 – For the first time in more than 20 years, government officials, providers, health plans and employers are recommending telehealth as the first choice for care, as opposed to an alternative – due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new report by healthcare-focused executive recruiting firm Cejka Search. Before the pandemic, only one in 10 patients in the U.S. used telehealth, according to a J.D. Power survey. Now, health systems and private telehealth companies are seeing a dramatic increase in its use.
Cejka points to a report that the Cleveland Clinic was on track to log more than 60,000 telemedicine visits this past March compared to an average of 3,400 virtual visits the month before. NYU Langone Health, meanwhile, had about 50 virtual visits a day through its telemedicine platform before March. But during the week of March 23 (as the COVID-19 pandemic grew), the hospital system was averaging about 900 a day.
“The demand for telehealth is only going to increase with the federal government recently announcing an expansion of Medicare telehealth services,” Cejka Search said. Meanwhile, nearly all states have enacted emergency regulations to increase the use of telehealth to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This has many health systems and private telemedicine companies scrambling to meet the demand and hiring of more physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Meeting the Demand
The Cleveland Clinic, along with other health systems, is responding by increasing hiring, and the company PlushCare, which provides virtual primary care and mental health treatment, is increasing hiring of doctors by 50 percent to 100 percent. And, NYU Langone has 170 doctors who tend to telemedicine patients today, up from 35 two weeks ago.
The Rise of Telehealth: The Impact on Talent Recruitment for the Future
In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ Hunt Scanlon Media host Rob Adams is joined by Mark Madden, executive vice president of Cejka Search. In this latest episode, Mark shares his thoughts on the recent rise in telehealth and its impact on talent acquisition and executive recruiting. Listen Now!
“For many hospitals and clinics, the increased demand has prompted them to move more doctors into the telehealth work since elective surgeries were cancelled and fewer patients are making in-person visits,” the Cejka Search report said.
Disruptive Shift to Telehealth
Cejka said that telehealth has been around for decades, and many health systems have made the telemedicine option available for years. “However, the push towards telehealth has been minimal as many systems felt it didn’t make sense financially to promote it because insurers paid less than half the rate they would for an in-person visit,” the firm said.
But the COVID-19 pandemic may change all that. “Advocates for decades have called on Medicare to expand telemedicine coverage, but federal officials were hesitant to respond because of concerns about increased costs,” Cejka points out. Yet the Trump administration had been moving to widen telemedicine options even before the pandemic. In 2019, it allowed Medicare for the first time to pay doctors on average about $14 for a five-minute “check in” phone call with their patients.
Cejka said the recently announced “Medicare payment change is another gamechanger because it covers such a large number of patients and more importantly, private insurers usually follow Medicare policies. All of these factors alongside a growing adoption of telehealth among consumers may mean this increase use of telemedicine will be here to stay, long after the pandemic is over.”
As physicians, administrators and patients recognize the value of telehealth, the practice is likely to become core to the practice of medicine going forward. In fact, a new report from Frost & Sullivan said its uptake will increase by 64.3 percent nationwide this year, given the disruptions of COVID-19. The report also suggested that virtual care and remote monitoring should truly take off in the years ahead, to the tune of sevenfold growth by 2025 – a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2 percent – particularly as technology advances and regulations are overhauled.
As health systems recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, they face an ever-worsening provider shortage. Last year, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicted the U.S. would see a shortfall of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032. Now, lost revenue due to the pandemic has caused many hospitals to furlough employees and slowed, or completely delayed, recruitment efforts, according to new report by Jordan Search Consultants (JSC). The end result will be unprecedented demand for providers unlike what hospitals have ever dealt with before, the firm says.
Beyond the adoption of telehealth by providers, consumer opinions are changing as well. Almost three-quarters of patients polled for one recent survey said they would consider using telehealth to be remotely screened for COVID-19, and two-thirds said the pandemic has increased their willingness to try virtual care. “The key, for the once-niche telemedicine industry, will be its ability to secure enough staff to keep up with soaring demand,” Cejka said.
Telehealth poses huge opportunities and challenges for providers and vendors alike. Among researchers’ predictions: more user-friendly sensors and remote diagnostic equipment, enables better patient outcomes. They also see more practical applications of artificial intelligence and robotics, with advancements such as interactive virtual assistants enabling more opportunities for care.
Also, researchers see more mature deployments in analytics, both now and in the future; better adherence to cybersecurity and privacy regulations; and measurable data that shows telehealth’s ROI – influencing even more lasting regulatory changes, beyond the expansions, enforcement discretion and allowances during the pandemic.
“It appears that telehealth has a bright future in store as the pandemic continues to reshape care delivery and opens up big opportunities for virtual care in the near-term future,” the Cejka report said.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media