Telehealth in 2023 - Predicting the Unpredictable - MedCity News

Making predictions in unpredictable times can be dangerous. As long-held confidences—even ones as basic as human contact—have proven unreliable, perhaps we can only really trust the trends that give us the flexibility to deal with the unexpected.

Healthcare is the ideal leader. The sector bore – and continues to bear – the brunt of this volatility. It has been severely constrained by emergencies such as the pandemic, just as these events have caused increasing demand for its services.

The fact is that telehealth helped the industry through the pandemic and it continues to evolve in 2022, addressing the new realities. So if we look at the trends that accelerated this year, we can see that telehealth is the common thread and the leading indicator of what’s to come in 2023.

Hospitals at home

Even before 2020, the hospital model faced significant challenges. In 2023, spiraling costs along with reservoir recruitment and retention rates will leave some systems in crisis.

If we look at personnel alone, research shows that the US will need an additional 275,000 nurses this decade while nearly a quarter of existing employees report that they are considering leaving the industry due to issues such as burnout. This is a situation that puts a lot of strain on the system, for example with the reports in Massachusetts 19,000 unfilled hospital jobs in 2022. This is simply unsustainable.

We have an alternative: As telehealth technologies become more sophisticated, we can move the treatment of more patients who currently occupy expensive and resource-intensive hospital beds into their own homes. We have precedent: With telehealth stepping up to fill the care vacuum caused by the pandemic, its use skyrocketed between January and April 2020. 78 times.

Over the next five to 10 years, more and more healthcare services will move from the hospital to the home. As it eases the pressure on hospitals, telehealth will emerge as a distinct and increasingly valuable part of the healthcare mix.

Takeovers of tech giants

Well-executed telehealth combines real-time data, deep consumer insights, and innovative application of technology. Does it remind you of anything? Telehealth is right in the sweet spot of the tech giants – and it’s a realization that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Google was one of the first to break out of the loop – initially as a health data repository, but soon expanding into data-driven and improved health services. The company already does direct investments in telehealth suppliers, while Google’s parent, Alphabet, makes billion-dollar bets data-driven healthcare which focuses on the needs of individuals rather than general services.

Much was made of Amazon’s apparent retreat from telehealth when it announced closing Amazon Care this year. However, subsequent announcements indicate that this is a reassessment, not a retreat. The company already has acquired One Medical – a primary care provider powered by telehealth – for nearly $4 billion. Also, it is newly launched Amazon Clinic will act, among other things, as a marketplace for third-party telehealth providers.

The potential of big tech in telehealth is mouth-watering. Meta’s pioneering study of metaverseand Microsoft Mesh developing “mixed reality” technologies offer exciting opportunities around remote virtual health environments and treatments.

With the seemingly limitless possibilities for implementing new technologies in telehealth, expect to see more acquisitions by tech giants through 2023 and beyond.

Behavioral and holistic health

The opportunities to move more and more complex aspects of care into the patient’s home, along with the attention of tech giants, point to the most intriguing trend of all. Using behavioral insights to build a holistic environment of care – one that truly integrates physical, social and mental health to create well-being.

If there’s one thing big tech nails, it’s behavioral insight. Walk around the internet and we are greeted with content that magically fits our needs and interests.

Now imagine a healthcare system that applies this level of insight to patients and their care. A healthcare system that goes beyond monitoring a patient’s vital signs, providing remote diagnostics and aiding in medication management. A healthcare system that builds true community by recognizing and connecting like-minded patients. A system that turns ‘remote’ and potentially isolating healthcare into a very real and health-enhancing sense of belonging.

This is not some soft or intangible benefit. We know there are clear connections between anxiety, loneliness and depression. We know that depression can lead to higher rates of morbidity in chronic diseases like cancer. We know that major depressive disorder costs the United States is estimated at $326 billion in pre-pandemic 2018, affecting about 17.5 million adults. And we know that these two numbers have increased during the pandemic, as 11% of US adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2019, compared to over 40% in 2021.

Fully integrated telehealth offers us the opportunity not only to better treat depression, but to intervene well before it occurs – with far-reaching implications for the cost of care and human health and well-being.

One thing we can be sure of: unpredictability will survive 2022. This means that in 2023 we will continue to see more and more innovative technologies applied to telehealth. The opportunity is to ensure that these technologies themselves are applied in innovative ways – ways that put the patient and their well-being at the center of care.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

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