Webdoctor CEO David Crimmins offers his perspective on the growth of telehealth in Ireland and around the world.
The pandemic has brought about an unprecedented shift in the delivery of health care outside of traditional clinical settings. As businesses and industries in markets around the world have been forced to pivot services or shut down for some time over the past two years, the pandemic has created an opportunity for the telehealth sector as patient demand for virtual healthcare was growing rapidly.
Digital health offers are not new services for himself. In reality, webdoctor was created in 2013. And while telemedicine was already on the rise before Covid-19, the pandemic shone the spotlight on the sector.
Recent reports show that the global market is projected reach $185.6 billion by 2026, with 83% of patients saying they expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic. We have already seen an indication of this in the Irish market with demand for Webdoctor consultations up 226% in 2021 compared to 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic.
This trend is reinforced by another recent report, which interviewed hundreds of clinicians around the world. More than half (56 percent) of physicians surveyed predicted that they would make most of their clinical decisions using artificial intelligence tools over the next 10 years.
With the telehealth space evolving at a rapid pace both domestically and internationally, digital healthcare platforms and technologies are rapidly becoming much more than just a convenient alternative.
Reflecting global trends in the telehealth industry, findings from the latest National Health Watch report by Webdoctor illustrate that while demand for online GP services may have increased out of necessity due to Covid 19, it is now the majority preferred service option.
For example, given the choice, 60% of people would rather use a GP or online prescription service than go to an in-person consultation for general health issues. This figure increases when it comes to specific issues such as erectile dysfunction (85pc), hair loss (70pc) or sexual health checkups (77pc).
This demand, combined with long wait times for physical in-person appointments with a GP, is driving massive growth in online GP and prescription services like Webdoctor and other health technology platforms.
Telemedicine also offers employers a real opportunity to implement digital health offerings as part of their employee benefits strategies. A recent study by Mercier revealed that 68% of employers globally plan to increase their investments in digital health and wellbeing, while 40% of employees say they would be more likely to stay with a company that offers health services digital. By supporting the well-being of your staff through these benefits, you are contributing to the overall long-term success of your business.
Additionally, employers in traditional healthcare businesses such as GP practices or pharmacies should seize the opportunity to expand and implement new telemedicine technologies where possible. The sector is constantly evolving and by using digital tools to complement traditional care, it offers the opportunity to expand their current offering, improve patient care and potentially increase profits.
Remote monitoring with portable devices
So, given the rapid pace of progress within the industry, what are the innovations to come?
Wearable technology has become an integral part of our daily lives and is dramatically changing the way we collect and analyze health data. These devices range from smartwatches to virtual home health monitors such as Pulsewave, a modern alternative to the traditional armband for measuring blood pressure.
One of the main benefits of wearable sensors is that by providing real-time data and allowing people to track their progress, they encourage patients to take a more active role in their health. This is something that everyone could benefit from.
As more digital healthcare platforms incorporate remote patient monitoring using wearable technology, this could lead to a more diverse range of outcomes that would help create more diagnostics. that would ultimately translate into better treatments and patient outcomes.
Increased patient autonomy
Digital healthcare platforms can give patients direct and instant access to their medical records or provide them with self-tracking devices. It gives people the ability to take control of their health.
As the industry continues to evolve, patient autonomy is expected to continue to increase. While this is a positive outcome for patients, it will be important not to lose the personal interaction and relational side of traditional medicine as it progresses.
Effective and integrated telehealth services are not limited to general practitioners behind a computer screen. They essentially act as a virtual gateway to the healthcare system, providing easily accessible and affordable medical advice and a positive patient experience, which ultimately improves the relationship between patient and GP.
At Webdoctor, our mantra is to “enable clinicians to operate at the peak of their license” by reducing unnecessary administrative processes and freeing up their time to focus on patient outcomes. The future of this sector will see the emergence of hybrid models and the key to success in the future for all health technology platforms and medical practices will be to recognize this and integrate telemedicine into care and their patient journey.
What is also evident is that there is still a lot of growth and development to come for the telehealth industry. We will see the continued integration of telemedicine and online GP services into everyday life.
Healthcare professionals are excited to explore what the future of telehealth looks like post-pandemic and patients will ultimately benefit. Telehealth, with its flexibility, innovation and convenience, is definitely here to stay.
David Crimmins is the CEO of webdoctora telehealth service which has carried out over 100,000 patient consultations in Ireland.
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