Telemedicine: The Future of Healthcare?


If you didn’t know what “telehealth” or “telemedicine” was before the pandemic, you’re not alone.

The digital approach to medicine, where patients can receive care and advice from doctors or other health professionals without being physically present in an office, clinic or hospital, represented less than 1% of the total healthcare volume in the country before the pandemic, according to a 2022 article by the American Medical Association (AMA). Additionally, more than half of physicians used telehealth for the first time during the pandemic.

Proponents of telehealth, such as the AMA, see it as a powerful tool connecting patients with essential services while improving the timeliness and quality of care. If you haven’t yet used telehealth services or are considering doing so, read on to better understand this continuing health trend.

How Did Telemedicine Grow So Quickly?

The use of telemedicine has grown exponentially over the last few years, likely due to federal government and state programs expanding access for Medicare beneficiaries as a response to the pandemic.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) captured detailed data on telemedicine utilization rates among Medicare patients. From March 2019 to February 2020, they found 910,490 individuals utilized telehealth, an e-visit or virtual check-in. Between March 2020 and February 2021, that number increased dramatically to 28,255,180 — or 53% of Medicare users nationwide.

Meanwhile, its increased use by non-Medicare patients during the pandemic could be attributed to technologically savvy consumers seeking ways to safely and responsibly access medical care without leaving their homes. For those continuing to access this service, telemedicine provides privacy, ease of access, comfort and immediacy in a culture where more people purchase health-monitoring wearables, participate in emerging wellness and self-care trends and change how they use their limited free time.

Another population to consider in the sudden growth of telemedicine are physicians themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenging time for those on the front lines of this medical crisis, and digital visits continue to provide an exposure-free alternative to in-person doctor visits.

Doximity’s State of Telemedicine Report, released in February 2022, found the adoption of telemedicine was strong across all physician age groups as they adjusted their workflows due to the pandemic but was higher in medical specialties that manage chronic illness. The report attributes this to telemedicine’s ability to facilitate continuity of care, ease of follow-up visits with familiar specialists and the necessity of frequent patient visits for long-term chronic visits, such as diabetes or cancer, where a phone or video call could be more convenient for patients.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Telemedicine?

Just like any new technology, telemedicine has its advantages and its downsides. To help you evaluate whether you should discuss telemedicine with your doctor, consider:

  • It can bridge gaps in care – If you live in a rural area without access to a local doctor or have mobility limitations, connecting with your physician via telephone or video can ensure you’re still accessing the quality care you need. More than 46 million Americans — or 15% of the U.S. population — live in rural areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This population is more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke — all conditions that could benefit from improved access to healthcare services.
  • It’s accurate – A 2022 study analyzing diagnostic data from the Mayo Clinic during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — March to June 2020 — found that the provisional telemedicine diagnoses matched in-person follow-up diagnoses in 86.9% of cases. The study found that telemedicine visits may be good supplements to in-person care. In contrast, those with diseases typically confirmed by physical examination, neurological testing or pathology could benefit from timelier in-person follow-up visits.
  • It’s a tech-heavy process – While telemedicine can be conducted by telephone or video call, the technology associated with that process — smartphones, computers, web cameras, apps and email — might be a barrier to those unfamiliar with these tools or unable to afford them, according to an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Your privacy concerns – Telemedicine appointments are more vulnerable to privacy risks than in-person visits, according to a 2020 study in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners. While most telehealth platforms are highly encrypted and designed to meet federal standards and regulations, no platform is immune to hackers or data breaches. According to the study, there are currently several laws on the books designed to offer privacy, security and protection for medical information collected during face-to-face and telehealth appointments.

Changing your health and wellness routine can significantly impact your health. Before switching to telemedicine, consult your physician or other healthcare providers. They have the correct insight and knowledge to identify if telemedicine is a good fit for you and any health conditions you may be managing.