Webdoctor CEO David Crimmins offers up his insights into the growth of telehealth in Ireland and worldwide.
The pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented shift to healthcare being delivered outside of the traditional clinical settings. While businesses and industries in marketplaces across the world were forced to pivot their services or close their doors for a period of time over the last two years, the pandemic created an opportunity for the telehealth sector as patient demand for virtual healthcare soared rapidly.
Digital health offerings are not new services per se. In fact, Webdoctor was established in 2013. And whilst telemedicine was already on the rise before Covid-19, the pandemic put a magnified spotlight on the sector.
Recent reports show the global market is projected to grow to $185.6bn by 2026, with 83pc of patients saying they expect to use telemedicine post pandemic. We’ve already seen an indication of this in the Irish marketplace with the demand for Webdoctor consultations up 226pc in 2021 compared to 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic.
This trend is backed up by another recent report, which surveyed hundreds of clinicians around the world. More than half (56pc) of doctors surveyed predicted that they will make most of their clinical decisions using artificial intelligence tools within the next 10 years.
With the telehealth space evolving at a rapid pace both domestically and internationally, digital healthcare platforms and technologies are fast becoming much more than just a convenient alternative.
Mirroring global trends in the telehealth sector, results from the latest National Health Watch report conducted by Webdoctor illustrate that while the demand for online GP services may have increased out of necessity due to Covid 19, it is now the preferred service option for the majority.
For example, given the choice, 60pc of people would prefer to use an online GP or prescription service instead of going to an in-person consultation for general health concerns. This figure rises when it comes to specific concerns such as erectile dysfunction (85pc), hair loss (70pc) or sexual health checks (77pc).
This demand, combined with lengthy waiting times for physical in-person GP appointments, is driving mass growth for online GP and prescription services like Webdoctor and other health-tech platforms.
Telemedicine also offers employers a real opportunity to implement digital healthcare offerings as part of their employee benefits strategies. A recent study from Mercer revealed that 68pc of employers globally expect to increase their investment in digital health and wellbeing, while 40pc of employees say they would be more likely to stay with a company that offers digital health services. By looking after the wellbeing of your workforce through these benefits, you are contributing to the overall long-term success of your business.
In addition, employers in traditional healthcare businesses such as a GP practice or pharmacy, should seize the opportunity to expand and implement new telemedicine technology where possible. The sector is constantly evolving and by using digital tools to complement traditional care, it offers the opportunity to broaden their current offering, improve patient care and potentially increase profits.
Remote monitoring with wearables
So, given the swift pace of progress within the sector, what innovations are coming down the track?
Wearable technology has become a regular part of our everyday lives and is significantly changing how we collect and analyse health-related data. These devices range from smartwatches to virtual at-home health monitors such as Pulsewave, a modern alternative to the traditional arm cuff to measure blood pressure.
A key benefit of wearable sensors is that by providing real time data and enabling people to track their progress, they are encouraging patients to take a more active role in their health. This is something everyone could gain from.
As more digital healthcare platforms incorporate remote patient monitoring utilising wearable technology, it could lead to a more diverse range of results which would help create more accurate diagnoses that ultimately would result in better patient treatment and outcomes.
Increased patient autonomy
Digital healthcare platforms can give patients direct instant access to their medical records or provide them with self-tracking devices. This gives people the opportunity to take control of their health.
As the sector continues to evolve, patient autonomy is likely to continue to increase. While this is a positive outcome for patients, it will be important not to lose the personal interaction and relationship side of traditional medicine as it progresses.
Effective, integrated telehealth services are more than just GPs behind a computer screen. They essentially act as a virtual gateway to the healthcare system, providing easily accessible, affordable medical advice and a positive patient experience, which ultimately improves the patient and GP relationship.
At Webdoctor, our mantra is to “allow clinicians operate at the top of their licence” by reducing unnecessary administrative processes and freeing up their time to focus on patient outcomes. The future of this sector will see hybrid models emerge and the key to achieving success going forward for all health-tech platforms and medical practices alike will be to recognise this and integrate telemedicine into their patient’s care and journey.
What’s also evident is that there is much more growth and development still to come for the telehealth sector. We will see the continued integration of telemedicine and online GP services into everyday life.
Health professionals are excited to explore what the post-pandemic future of telehealth looks like and patients will ultimately benefit. Telehealth, with its flexibility, innovation and convenience, is most definitely here to stay.
David Crimmins is the CEO of Webdoctor, a telehealth service that has carried out over 100,000 patient consultations in Ireland.
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