Way back in September 2019, the World Health Organization warned that up to 5 billion people could be without healthcare by 2030 . The COVID-19 pandemic exploded a matter of months later, forcing people inside their homes and putting healthcare on the world’s agenda in a way it hadn’t been for decades.
Fast forward to the present day, to the post-COVID reality. Billions of people don’t have access to the healthcare services they need. Over half a billion people have been pushed into extreme poverty because of healthcare costs. Healthcare is already a serious issue and it could become a catastrophe. What’s the solution?
Telehealth and telemedicine are transforming the way organisations deliver healthcare services to patients. They help more people get access to high-quality health services. They can also reduce the cost of healthcare, with one study stating telehealth can realise savings of $361 per patient .
But what exactly are these two terms, how precisely are they bringing about positive change for patients and why are they experiencing massive growth? This blog post answers those questions and more.
Telehealth and telemedicine are both about removing geographical barriers to healthcare. They each use remote telecommunications systems and modern technology to give people access to healthcare services, no matter where they live. The five largest telehealth companies in the world are Teladoc Health, MDLive, Doctor on Demand, iCliniq and Amwell.
But while the two terms share the same mission and are often used interchangeably, there are differences between telehealth and telemedicine. We’ve provided a succinct description of each term below:
Telehealth covers a broad range of healthcare services. These include preventative, promotive and curative care, along with the administration of medication and provision of health-related educational resources.
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth and has a narrower focus than its parent term. It’s geared towards providing clinical services, such as monitoring and diagnosis.
Not everyone can access or afford the healthcare services they need. Telehealth and telemedicine use modern technology to enable people to get the treatments and care they require. Patients can get virtual consultations, have their health status consistently monitored, get their medications administered automatically and more.
There are some key benefits to this, such as:
But it's not only patients who benefit from telehealth and telemedicine. Healthcare providers can boost their productivity and efficiency, as they’re able to increase the number of patients they see and can do so in less time.
The benefit for national healthcare providers is that they can have healthier people and economies. Additionally, any reduction in healthcare costs achieved from using telehealth or telemedicine services frees up funds for governments to invest elsewhere, such as in education, the environment or pensions.
The benefit for private healthcare companies is they can elevate their revenue, as the output of their staff rises and their patient bases grow. This means they have additional capital to invest in new technologies, so even better healthcare outcomes can be achieved for their patients.
Telehealth and telemedicine improve people’s lives by transforming their healthcare accessibility, experiences and outcomes. But while their benefits are easy to grasp, there are challenges to adopting telehealth and telemedicine solutions.
Privacy and security of patient data is a key focus area. Take virtual consultations. When a patient visits a health centre or hospital they can see everyone who is in the room when they share their medical information with them.
Achieving this level of reassurance using virtual consultations could be harder, as people won’t always have full visibility of the room from which their medical professional is providing the consultation. Issues like this present regulatory concerns for telehealth and telemedicine.
Another challenge is disparities in access to both internet connectivity and technology. For telehealth and telemedicine to succeed, patients need to have the correct setup to be able to use their services. This isn’t a given.
The global average is that 64.8% of people have access to the internet . This number only reaches single digits in some nations, and the UN’s goal of universal access (90% of people being online) isn’t expected to be achieved until 2050 or later . It’s a real problem, as countries that would benefit most from telehealth and telemedicine can’t get access to their services until their infrastructure is improved.
COVID-19 supercharged the growth in telehealth and telemedicine. According to statistics from a report conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), telehealth visits were 6200% higher in 2020 than in 2019.
This enormous growth was powered by lockdowns limiting or stopping people’s physical access to healthcare services. However, this isn’t to say that growth in the market has stopped. Indeed, the telehealth market was valued at $83.5 billion in 2022 and is predicted to rise to $455.3 billion by 2030 — growth numbers for telehealth and telemedicine are often grouped together, as the two terms are frequently used interchangeably.
A key reason that the use of telehealth and telemedicine is expected to continue rising is the increasing availability of high-speed internet and mobile devices.
We highlighted earlier in this blog post that internet accessibility is a challenge for telehealth and telemedicine. However, more and more people are gaining accessibility and it’s expected that 71% of the global population will have internet access by 2027 . Smartphone ownership is also predicted to increase from 6.598 billion in 2022 to 7.861 billion in 2028 .
The future of telehealth and telemedicine is bright. Technological developments are expanding the range and quality of services that can be provided, as well as reducing the cost to patients. Some of the core telehealth and telemedicine trends underpinning this include:
Advances in technology are making the delivery of telehealth and telemedicine services easier, better and cheaper. But is growth in these markets needed? The answer can be powerfully answered in the affirmative by looking at population ageing statistics.
The World Health Organization stated in 2022 that “people worldwide are living longer.” It predicted that “by 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over”, adding that “by 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double.”
Why is this important? Because people’s need for healthcare rises exponentially as they reach their mid-60s, as the graph below from the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) demonstrates:
This means we’re moving into a future where more and more people will need healthcare services. It makes the case for expanding the provision of telehealth and telemedicine services stronger and stronger as time goes on.