4 Big Ways Healthcare has Changed in 2020

Published - Feb 03, 2021

4 Big ways healthcare changed last year

Large X’s on the floor in tape, 6 feet apart. A thermometer scanning your forehead, cold from the walk into the clinic. Colorful patterned fabric masks hiding our smiles. The strong smell of disinfectant still wet from the last cleaning. The familiar questions of whether or not the patient has a fever, or has been in contact with anyone diagnosed or suspected to have COVID-19. We all know the now-familiar list of precautions.

Like nearly every industry on the planet, healthcare has been impacted drastically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond adapting to manage a crisis at a biomedical level, how has the pandemic affected the rest of healthcare? Not all of us provide hospital care and not all of us are on the frontlines trying to contain the pandemic but we all have a duty to serve our patients. IRG is no different. The pandemic has forced all of us to re-evaluate, examine and adapt; the result is better, more convenient care for everyone. Although many of these ideas have been around for a decade or longer, 2020 offered the chance to get more people on board with the new age of technology-fueled medical care.

1. Subscription-based medicine

Many companies are offering monthly subscriptions to cover unlimited primary care visits, reduced fees for prescriptions, labs and more.

Like many software and tech companies, healthcare industries are realizing that subscription services simultaneously keep consumer costs down and also help increase the steady roll of revenue for the provider. A single monthly price often covers unlimited virtual or text-based visits with a medical provider, plus cheaper prescription drugs by mail, easier scheduling, reduced lab prices and more. Since much of the system is remote, it also helps keep costs reasonable and COVID-19 risk low. Other companies have embraced a hybrid approach to healthcare, offering in-person visits and telehealth visits in tandem with their plans. Companies like OneMedical have been increasing in number and it’s not a wonder why: it simplifies the healthcare process and removes a lot of the complexity (and bureaucratic cost) we see in the American medical system. Who doesn’t want to have a simpler, cheaper, more personalized healthcare experience?

2. Holistic Care

Some providers are rolling everything from mental healthcare to surgery into one system.

Holistic care isn’t necessarily new, but 2020 made it apparent that it’s a winner for everyone. Crossover Health started in San Francisco 10 years ago, has cared for the brain, mind and body. They combine wellness, mental health services, physical therapy and primary care into one system and now have served over 2 million visits with a 94% satisfaction rate. Even large insurance companies are paying attention. Kaiser Permanente is a one-stop-shop for everything from health insurance itself to surgery to primary care and more. The new brainchild of the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase groups named Haven is supposed to be something similar - a full service, bottom to the top healthcare platform, all rolled into one. The pandemic has caused not just physical illness, but also an increase in mental illnesses.  According to the CDC, anxiety and depression rates have leaped 300% compared to last year, making it even more important for healthcare providers to realize that patients are humans with complex needs, emotions and bodies. By taking care of the whole person by offering head to toe care, they can keep their own costs down and help patients take better care of themselves too.

 3. Telehealth

It’s cheaper, easier, safer and more convenient but doesn’t have the needed human touch.

Telehealth visits are remote video sessions between the provider and patient. Telehealth (also called telemedicine) visits are becoming commonplace and often replace follow up visits and evaluations in many industries. It’s cheaper, easier to schedule, requires fewer staff to conduct, doesn’t need a physical office space and saves just about every one time and money.

Since its inception, telehealth has gained traction in every industry and grown steadily until this last year. In 2020 from March to June, telehealth visits shot up nearly 25x the usual volume in the USA. Suddenly, as people locked themselves in their homes to avoid the pandemic, they had to seek alternatives to help stave off infection. Telehealth was a perfect medium. Technology gave us a way to conduct routine care safely. IRG saw our telehealth visits increase nearly 5x their normal volume during this period. 

Telehealth has not been a fix-all solution for easy healthcare, however. It can be less profitable and, of course, doesn’t allow for the human contact so necessary in healthcare. Telehealth visit numbers are still higher than they were in 2019, but decreased significantly compared to the start of the pandemic. During this time, the US federal government put several measures in place to make sure that telehealth was reimbursed at the same rate to encourage more providers to offer it to keep patients home. Later in 2020, this was rolled back and providers were not guaranteed the same rate, which may be discouraging providers from scheduling them. Although it requires fewer resources (staffing, office space), it is unlikely to completely replace in-person visits entirely. Nothing can truly replace the human touch when it comes to healthcare.

 4. On-Demand Healthcare

Patient services are increasingly available in an Uber-like model of sending a provider to a patient’s home.

This brings us to another new trend that became increasingly popular in 2020. If a patient wants hands-on healthcare but doesn’t feel safe coming into a clinic, what else can we do? Bring back one of the biggest trends in medicine in the 1930s: the house call.

The house call started in the early 20th century to help deliver care to infirmed, immobile patients who were not eligible for hospitalization. These days, with technology as an easy triaging tool, we’re able to dispatch medical providers with the touch of a few buttons to locations across the world. It’s no longer reserved for the sickest, but for anyone who needs a break from dashing between appointments or anyone who needs to feel a little safer staying home. For example, our partners at DispatchHealth just ventured into the Seattle area market, bringing the urgent care clinic to patients in just a few hours. This would have certainly been an organizational feat even 15 years ago, but here we are, bringing healthcare to anyone in their own home.

We have car-for-hire companies to thank for this revolution in healthcare. Uber changed the way we think about services forever. A customer uses an app to request a service, and that service is delivered immediately, no waiting, no fuss. It’s easier and faster than ever to pair a provider with a customer, and there is absolutely no reason healthcare can’t be the same way. Our biggest moment this year at IRG was launching IRG On-Demand. Through our partnership with Luna PT, we’re bringing PT to thousands of Washington residents’ homes, offices or gym spaces, at the same price as traditional outpatient physical therapy.

With these new technologies, patients have unprecedented access to a variety of excellent healthcare services. The challenges and changes from 2020 have helped us innovate better healthcare solutions. IRG has grown as a company despite the pandemic and we’ve been able to bring healthcare to hundreds of more patients with new technologies. Let’s hope 2021 carries the same spirit of innovation across industries.