By Matthew Finnegan-April 27,2020

Demand for telehealth systems has boomed in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, setting the stage for telemedicine to finally achieve at least some of its long-promised benefits. And analysts expect widespread use to continue even after the current crisis abates.

The coronavirus outbreak that has infected almost 3 million people worldwide and killed nearly 200,000 (including more than 50,00 in the U.S. alone) will “forever change the way consumers seek and receive healthcare,” said Arielle Trzcinski, a senior analyst at Forrester.

“While the pandemic will prove the value of virtual care in a crisis, it will also demonstrate the effectiveness for ongoing chronic care management,” she said. “This moment will have a lasting effect on the adoption of virtual care and accelerate the shift from in-person care to virtual first engagement for multiple conditions and use cases.”

Telehealth broadly involves the remote provision of healthcare between doctors and patients, most often by way of video consultations, though it can also be used for teleradiology and remote patient monitoring.

Telehealth firms see ‘explosive’ spikes in demand

The crisis has led to telehealth vendors seeing huge spikes in demand, said Daniel Ruppar, a consulting director at Frost & Sullivan; some have gotten a year’s worth of traffic on their platforms in the space of a month. “That is explosive growth,” Ruppar said. “Similar to how other consumer platforms like Zoom have exploded, that’s the same impact that’s gone on in telehealth.”

He was referring to the Zoom videoconferencing platform, which has had a quick, but rocky, growth spot as work-from-home employees have turned to what is seen as an easy-to-use way to video chat with colleagues. That, in turn, exposed a number of security vulnerabilities in the platform that Zoom is working to correct.

For Amwell, a telehealth software vendor, the recent surge meant a 2,000% increase in visits on its platform as demand for virtual consultations surged. The rapid uptick in demand meant Amwell had to work with its customers deploy its software much faster than normal.

“Normally, we spend two to four months deploying and implementing a system for a health system; there’s lots of integration, we want to be embedded in their EHR [electronic health record systems], etc.,” said Mike Baird, president for customer solutions at Amwell.

“Obviously we didn’t have time for that in this crisis, and so we had an offering that we could literally stand up in three or four days,” Baird said.

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