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PHI’s Center for Connected Health Policy Weighs in on Virtual Care Trends for 2024
“In many ways, 2023 was a year of reckoning for virtual care. From sky-high funding and clinical promises verging on hyperbole to bankruptcy filings and an ongoing patient preference for in-person care, virtual care stakeholders had to concede to some hard truths. Still, the appetite for virtual care is alive and well, making it the stakeholders’ responsibility to assess and optimize the adoption and use of virtual care in the year ahead.
In the third quarter (Q3) of 2023, telehealth use dropped to 5.8 percent from 31.2 percent in the second quarter of 2020, the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, data from Epic Research shows.
“During COVID, we saw this explosion in virtual care, virtual visits, video visits,” said Steven Shook, MD, lead for virtual health at Cleveland Clinic, in an interview with mHealthIntelligence. “And we had imagined that we were going to hold onto a lot of that — the patients were going to really love it, and they did. But we’ve seen a lot more of a fall-off in demand for that after COVID ended than we expected.”
The mood of healthcare stakeholders going into 2024 may be more somber than in the recent past, but the work of integrating virtual care into the US healthcare system is ongoing. Here are some key trends healthcare leaders, policy experts, and consultants expect to see in the new year.
Patient care trends
As in-person care returned following a significant decline early in the pandemic, patient preferences for visit type became more nuanced. Patients appear to be leaning toward a blend of virtual and in-person care customized to their needs.
“So, I think moving into next year, we’re going to find ways to really bring together the best of in-person and virtual care to deliver the best possible outcome for our patients,” Shook said. “And I think that’s the challenge. Not every patient journey, not every care journey is going to be really heavy in digital care. Many of them will be, but really striking the balance between in-person and digital is going to be key.”
Patient interest in virtual care modalities, including asynchronous telehealth and remote patient monitoring, is growing. So, healthcare providers must set up efficient digital workflows that ensure frequent connections between patients and clinicians and a streamlined data strategy to effectively leverage these modalities, he said.
Not only that, but providers in the virtual care space will have to contend with the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) — the buzziest technology of the year.
“I think patients are seeing how AI can enhance their own lives through ChatGPT,” Shook said. “I think they’re going to expect their providers to be able to have access and use those tools as co-pilots to really drive better outcomes and improve their care.”
However, there are several ongoing challenges healthcare providers must contend with as the virtual care landscape continues to evolve in 2024. Patient access and comfort with technology and internet connectivity are among the most pressing.
Policy and reimbursement trends
The virtual care policy landscape has remained relatively steady at the federal level as policymakers extended most of the significant temporary pandemic-era waivers through the end of 2024.”
Where we wound up at the end of 2023 is status quo — really where we were at the beginning of the year. And if you look at it on the state level — if you look at it overall, encompassing all the states — it's the same story because a lot of states had already made their decisions [regarding virtual care policy] back before 2023.Mei Wa Kwong, JD
Executive Director, Center for Connected Health Policy, Public Health Institute
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Originally published by mHealthIntelligence