From job loss to health scares, everyone was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while vaccines are being distributed and regulations are easing up, the world isn't going back to how it was before.
2020 changed everything. Not only did individuals have to adapt to a new normal, but so did industries - the healthcare industry, especially. In order to protect patients while slowing the spread of COVID-19, healthcare companies had to become more innovative. From promoting telemedicine to providing online birth control, the industry adopted some necessary services that will most likely stick around post-COVID.
Here are five healthcare trends that surged during the pandemic and will continue to expand in the future:
1. Telehealth Appointments
Telehealth appointments aren't new. In fact, they've been around for a while - they just weren't very popular. One reason for this was that some insurance companies made it difficult to get reimbursed for these types of services. The pandemic changed that. Thanks to new policies, it's easier than ever for patients to pay for telehealth.
Not only do telehealth appointments help maintain social distancing, but they save time and transportation costs. Telehealth also makes it easier to communicate with medical professionals from the safety and comfort of your own home.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 1.6 million telehealth appointments between January and March 2020. During the last week of March 2020, there was a 154% increase in these types of visits compared to the same month in 2019.
With numbers like these, it's clear this healthcare trend will keep going strong. And while in-person doctor's visits won't fade away, telehealth will play an important role in maintaining a patient's overall well-being.
2. Online Birth Control
During the pandemic, visiting a doctor's office for things like birth control was considered medically unnecessary. Due to this policy, many patients turned to other approaches. Whether they scheduled an online doctor visit or had birth control delivered, using technology to access birth control became the new normal.
According to the CDC, almost two-thirds of U.S. women use some type of contraception. From that number alone, it's clear how important it is to have easy access to birth control.
Companies like Nurx help women streamline the process of obtaining birth control. Simply answer a few online health questions and after a medical consultation the company's providers will write a prescription, if appropriate. Nurx will then deliver a three-month supply to your front door, with no additional charge.
The online birth control trend isn't going anywhere. In fact, it'll only grow in popularity as more people discover they can acquire easy and reliable birth control without ever leaving their house. These services are also cheaper than the traditional doctor's appointment alternative - free, in fact, if you have insurance. If you don't, some services will provide a monthly prescription to certain medications for as little as $15.
3. In-Home Healthcare
During the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals were overwhelmed. In virus hotspots, many experienced a lack of available beds for COVID-19 patients and other individuals in need. Because of this, many hospitals looked to a hospital-at-home model to provide care.
In this approach, healthcare providers deliver care to patients in their homes instead of in a hospital. Not only does this reduce costs, but it can improve outcomes and the patient-doctor experience.
Even in a post-COVID world, the benefits of receiving top-notch care in the convenience of your home can't be ignored.
4. Public Health Infrastructure
From limited testing kits to overcrowded hospitals, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed many flaws in the U.S. healthcare system. One of these problems lay within our public health infrastructure.
While our healthcare system relies more and more on technology, it also relies on humans. For example, some data has to be manually entered, which can lead to errors and delays. If information isn't entered in a timely and accurate manner, it can cause miscommunication between parties. This is something we saw during the pandemic.
To avoid this problem, healthcare professionals will start to integrate even more technology to bolster the infrastructure. For example, electronic health record (EHR) technologies will increasingly be used to streamline the clinical decision-making process.
We'll also see a surge in machine learning and artificial intelligence within the industry to perform triage, improve diagnostic capabilities, and more. AI tools can make myriad parts of the healthcare process more accurate and precise. The sooner the public health infrastructure is modernized, the better our response will be in the event of another pandemic.
5. Mental Health
Discussing mental health used to be considered taboo. But in recent years, that's changed. People are starting to have conversations surrounding the topic, and because of that, more people are seeking help. This is good news, especially considering the impact COVID-19 has had on the nation's mental health.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey, over 42% of respondents experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression in December 2020. This marks an 11% increase from 2019. What does that tell professionals? The impacts of coronavirus aren't just physical but emotional as well. Mental health issues aren't going to recede, which is why we'll see even more treatment offerings.
Thanks to apps like BetterHelp, patients can now find therapists online. Companies have even launched inexpensive technologies to help individuals reduce stress and anxiety. For example, Calm offers meditation exercises and breathing techniques to ease tension and promote relaxation. According to the company, 84% of users who used Calm five times a week saw an improvement in their mental health.
Technologies like these are accessible, affordable, and effective. That's why we'll see more of them in the future.
Everyone needs, and deserves, to have ready access to healthcare. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Due to everything from excessive costs to social stigma, many people put their health on the back burner, creating serious problems. Thanks to the trends above, though, it's now easier than ever to find needed treatment in a safe environment.