If you’ve recently experienced a telehealth visit for the first time, you’re not alone. Telehealth use has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving us a glimpse of how healthcare will begin to work permanently.  

Both doctors and patients have embraced virtual care over the past few months with nearly half of Americans (42%) reporting having used telehealth services since the pandemic first began, according to a new Harris Poll survey commissioned by Updox. Faced with the challenge of needing to treat patients without exposing them – or staff – to the coronavirus, many independent physicians and health systems launched telehealth services in March and expect to grow their virtual care options in the future. 

Some analysts have compared this rapid adoption of telehealth to a tsunami poised to change the way healthcare is delivered even after the pandemic is over. Like a massive wave, telehealth adoption has taken the nation by storm, and left in its wake are outdated healthcare models that don’t fully meet the expectations of patients. 

As we move forward in this new world, it’s important to understand the ways in which telehealth is shaping the way we will use healthcare going forward and what the “doctor’s office” of the future will look like.

Convenient Care

One of the main reasons people say they have turned to telehealth is for convenience. In fact, according to our recent survey, around half of Americans say that if they were to use telehealth services post COVID-19, convenience (51%) would be among the most important factors to them. Of patients who like using telehealth services, 65% say it’s because telehealth visits are more convenient than in-office appointments. Americans who like using telehealth services also say they like how easy it is to schedule an appointment via telehealth versus an in-office appointment (44%) and that follow-ups/communications post-appointment are more streamlined (38%).

The “Amazonification” of healthcare – which encompasses convenience, digital channels and an ongoing, engaging relationship with your doctors to receive more personalized treatments – has been pushed for by consumers for years. Pre-COVID, the often hectic pace of life – such as juggling kids, home and work schedules – could make going to see the doctor for routine appointments inconvenient. Now that the telehealth barriers have been broken, many plan to continue these habits that have been formed even as communities, and doctors’ offices, begin to reopen.

Data also shows that people like using telehealth because it keeps them safer. Of people who like using telehealth, 63% say it’s because they don’t have to worry about being exposed to other potentially sick patients.

Telehealth appointments can be safely conducted from practically anywhere. What previously would have required a trip to the doctor’s office – which can be a challenge for the elderly, seriously ill or rurally-distanced patients – can be accomplished at the touch of a button. And the more advanced solutions don’t require any new apps. They meet patients where they are, right on their phones. 

As the healthcare system rebuilds post-COVID, consumer needs and demands will be integrated into the model. Convenience, built around virtual care, will be integral. That’s the future of healthcare. And it’s getting closer every day. 

Becoming the Norm

In the past, patients who wanted to use telehealth had only one option: go through a large network like Teledoc, Amwell or Doctor on Demand where doctors are provided at the point of care and are usually not providers the patients have seen before. If that network wasn’t covered under your insurance, or if you needed to see a specialist or wanted a choice in your doctor, you were out of luck. 

Today, those problems are quickly disappearing as more primary care physicians adopt telehealth as a routine part of their practice. Patients can choose a local provider who offers both in-person and remote care appointments without having to make any sacrifices.  

This is a huge step for people who value seeing their own doctor, whom they have a personal relationship with, and who intimately knows their unique medical history. We will continue to see this more over the next year, as 49% of Americans said being able to see or speak with the healthcare professional of their choice is of the utmost importance when using telehealth. 

A New Era of Virtual Patient Care

Going forward, doctors will increasingly add more options for patients to connect and engage digitally, creating an entire virtual care environment that caters to consumers’ demand for more convenient and safe options – both now, and beyond COVID-19, and both out and in the doctor’s office. 

The doctor’s office of the future will be largely touchless, starting with text messages confirming appointment times and insurance information to notifications when the patient’s room is ready, allowing patients to skip the waiting room and proceed directly to the room when it’s time. After the appointment, no physical paperwork will be needed, and you’ll be able to pay from your phone rather than at the front desk.  

For years, telehealth was discussed in the future tense as something with great potential to change healthcare. Now that it’s finally here, both patients and providers stand to benefit. 

Driven by the need for social distancing, desire for convenience and growing adoption by physicians in order to continue seeing patients, telehealth can help doctors extend the in-person experience virtually so those in their care have greater continuity and consistency, no matter where they are. We’ve entered a new era of virtual care where more and more services will be provided remotely, and soon, virtual care will be as essential to doctors as their stethoscopes.