The pandemic has pushed telehealth to the forefront of healthcare delivery. While the surge in virtual care was fueled by a need to mitigate exposure to COVID-19, it quickly became clear telehealth is more than a stop-gap solution. It’s now an essential part of the healthcare system – and a critical tool for businesses to address workforce needs while driving down costs.

“Telehealth has reached an inflection point,” said Bill Goodwin, CEO of national telehealth provider MeMD. “Utilization has exploded, and we’re on the cusp of widespread adoption. Employers now see the opportunity to curb skyrocketing medical costs while meeting employees’ expectations for accessible, convenient and more affordable care.”

Goodwin shares his outlook for telehealth in 2021:

Telehealth will be the standard first step. As consumers grow accustomed to ease, convenience and immediacy in healthcare, telehealth will be their first stop for care. Patients will take their rightful place at the center of the healthcare experience and access services on their terms, whether via video, phone or even text.

• Employers transition to holistic benefit packages. Companies will seek out holistic telehealth services as part of a workforce strategy. From urgent and primary care to mental health and wellness programs, virtual solutions will take center stage as businesses work to improve employee health while reducing costs. This is especially true of mental healthcare. Today, employers better understand the link between mental health and workplace performance; they will provide employees with access to virtual behavioral healthcare to overcome the barriers of in-person therapy and psychiatry – like narrow insurance networks, a national provider shortage and the stigma of seeking care.

• Heightened attention toward data management. Telehealth’s expansion into primary care will arm family and internal medicine providers with the data they need to improve quality, care coordination and communication – all while bending the cost curve down. Moreover, patients will own their data and take it with them on healthcare visits. Wearables, too, will begin to play a bigger role in care delivery.

• Artificial intelligence to play a greater role in new telehealth solutions. AI will enable telehealth to maximize its clinical impact. Among dozens of applications, it can share patient information in advance to help providers make accurate diagnoses, guide patients in the at-home use of historically complex diagnostic tools, and even deliver behavioral therapy as an adjunct to clinician-supervised treatment.

• Primary care to assume role of quarterback. The virtual-first setting will enable primary care providers to quarterback their patients’ care. In addition to solving access issues resulting from a critical provider shortage, telehealth will increase the number of touchpoints between doctors and patients, especially when managing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

• Federal policy will evolve to expand virtual care delivery. At the onset of the pandemic, U.S. insurers quickly expanded coverage to include all telehealth visits and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services loosened restrictions on virtual care. Medicare, too, has expanded telehealth benefits. Going forward, the U.S. will likely see permanent changes to healthcare law that push telehealth and other technologies forward. 

“We are finally seeing a modernization of healthcare delivery in the U.S.,” added Goodwin. “Telehealth allows patients to take command of the healthcare experience and enables employers to rein in runaway costs. The potential truly is limitless.”

MeMD’s telehealth solutions are trusted by more than 30,000 corporate, institutional and health plan partners nationwide covering more than 5 million members. Learn more about organizational partnerships and the virtual care services MeMD provides.