Telehealth - The New Path Forward
The market for telehealth has existed for a few decades now. But its moment came with the global pandemic and urgent need for contactless healthcare and pharmacy services. As countries across the world scrambled to catch up, telemedicine gave them the opportunity to provide citizens with remote medical advice, at-home testing, and prescription delivery models that efficiently took care of patient needs.
According to reports, in India, telehealth is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 31% and is set to reach $5.4 billion by 2025, with many companies and investors aiding the growing sector. Unsurprisingly, in the US market, telehealth spiked exponentially with the start of Covid-19 and has since stabilized at 38 times higher than pre-covid levels. (Source)
Reasons for the Growth of Telehealth
While the pandemic may have speeded up its growth, the need for remote pharmacies and teleconsultations has been growing with the technological advances of the twenty-first century. This sector provides unending possibilities for investors, healthcare professionals, medical insurance companies, and end-users. Let’s look at some of the critical aspects driving the development of this industry.
Ease of use for patients is one of the most attractive aspects of telemedicine. Getting medical care in the most convenient and prompt manner, without the pain of waiting rooms, pharmacy counters, and return visits are a good reason for faster consumer adoption of virtual medical services.
Private-sector funding and investment in medical services have long been staggered; mainly limited to big players due to the high initial cost and government regulations surrounding the industry. While still nascent, we are seeing a growing trend of smaller pharma and telehealth startups that are willing to experiment with new offerings. Medical services like routine e-visits for non-emergency situations, in-home testing, and prescription e-delivery have become common globally.
Industry-wide Willingness to Adopt
Doctors have moved from physical checkups to a higher dependence on lab reports, as a diagnostic tool, for guiding their analysis on patient care. Telehealth has led to more efficiency in delivering relevant medical care and advice for the basic needs of their patients, thus lightening the load for medical professionals. Medical insurance companies have also caught on to the trend and introduced ways to offer coverage, for distance visits and remote prescriptions.
Affordability of Preventative Healthcare
Chronic conditions have long been a reason for routine doctor’s offices and in-store pharmacy visits. Using apps, remote-monitors, in-home testing, and e-pharmacies, medical staff are better able to partner with their patients in managing health conditions virtually. Across the board, one can see the wisdom in healthcare with a preventative approach, as against seeking expensive treatments when a disease has progressed.
Pharmacies have been toying with innovative and convenient ways to offer remote services to meet the high demand for prescriptions from patients and medical practices. While traditional pharmacies have started boosting their physical presence with online deliveries; in countries like India, platforms like PharmEasy are delivering to homes without the hassles of managing any physical locations. Insurance companies have also found the sweet spot by offering patients more attractive pricing for pharmacy bulk orders deliveries.
Video conferencing tools with industry-level security have gone a long way in building the confidence of patients, medical professionals, and insurance companies. Applications for watches and trackers are getting more sophisticated as their demand increases, offering relevant alerts and live information on patient care to medical staff, day and night.
Key Obstacles to Telehealth
The need for enhanced data security and management of patient records, as per privacy laws and government regulations, remains paramount to the widespread adoption of e-pharmacies and the success of telehealth.
Coverage by insurance companies for basic e-visits and remote pharmacies will guide the future of telemedicine. In addition, providing access to apps and monitors for patient health are equally important.
Many developing countries with higher rural populations, low technology, and other infrastructure issues, are struggling to serve everyone’s need for telehealth in a consistent and dependable manner.
Lack of in-person interaction leading to the possibility of misdiagnosis and prescription errors is always high with remote services. Some medicinal specialties will do better with a hybrid approach offering telemedicine and in-person doctor visits.
The ability of governments to pass legislation to support remote healthcare will guide the trajectory of this growing industry. Sharing of best practices is critical for faster learning on what works and the things that don’t; something that the global pandemic has already set into practice.
For anyone, still wondering what the fuss is about on the need for telehealth and e-pharmacy services, let me paint a picture. Take a moment to look back at a traditional healthcare visit, which started with getting an in-person doctor’s appointment, filling out long medical forms and waiting for your turn at the medical office while being unwell, then having lab tests ordered at a different location, followed by a visit to a stand-alone pharmacy to pick up the prescription. We can all do without that hassle.