In today’s world, we’ve gotten accustomed to being able to do things at the touch of a button. Having our groceries delivered to our door, renewing driver’s licenses, and completing degrees through online platforms are tasks that would not have been accomplished remotely just one or two generations ago.
Now, faced with a pandemic, we have been forced to think about how to push virtual technologies further for our shared health and safety. With the rise of remote work, people are more comfortable interacting with each other online, and everyone is seeing the benefits of working from home.
The same shift is happening in healthcare. To minimize infection rates, doctors and patients had to learn how to discuss intimate healthcare issues online. And now that we have been dealing with Covid-19 for over a year, consumers, regulators, payers, doctors, and patients are beginning to realize the value of virtual healthcare. If you have a fever, why would you want to get on a crowded subway to wait in a waiting room with others who are ill and likely contagious only to ask your doctor a simple question that could have been answered via video chat?
Much like remote work, virtual healthcare doesn’t only prevent the unnecessary spreading of diseases and viruses, but actually saves everyone money. Healthcare in the US is already expensive, which makes sense if we look at the underlying expenses of hospitals and large medical facilities.
Decentralizing healthcare by utilizing online resources and administering medical attention in someone’s home, rather than admitting them into a hospital, means direct savings for patients and hospitals alike.
Now that technology allows for medical equipment to be smaller and more mobile, major hospitals and health systems have begun to admit patients into their own homes where they receive hospital-level care administered through a combination of telehealth, 24/7 remote monitoring, and in-person visits. The American Hospital Association reports that hospital-at-home care has an average of 25 percent lower cost of the stay.
Being cared for at home is not just convenient and cost-effective, it also helps patients engage in preventative care. If healthcare takes less time, cost, and effort, getting patients to follow through on routine checkups is much easier. One large study found that patients receiving hospital-level care at home have a 20 percent reduction in mortality.
Additionally, telehealth resources have made care more accessible for rural or underserved populations which lack access to medical services. For individuals with limited mobility or parents without available childcare, telehealth allows them to receive the care they need from the comfort of their own homes. Online and at-home medical resources have also helped de-stigmatize therapy and encouraged more people to reach out for mental health resources.
To continue these advancements in a post-pandemic world, policymakers can encourage the growth of decentralized healthcare by creating incentives for medical facilities to offer at-home services. This can be done through zoning policy, eliminating tax breaks for large facilities, and by changing reimbursement policies and funding formulas.
Thanks to human innovation, we can make healthcare more efficient, more affordable, and of better quality. Especially after the year, we’ve all faced, our collective goal should be to make quality healthcare as accessible and affordable as possible. If there’s one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s the push for advancements to make this possible.