Telehealth experienced a surge in popularity during the pandemic, but you might be surprised at just how big that surge was. According to an HHS report, 2019 saw 840,000 Medicare telehealth appointments; in 2020, the number went up to 52.7 million. While people used telehealth platforms for all kinds of physical and mental ailments, behavioral health specialists got quite a lot of traffic, reporting over 30% of 2020’s telehealth appointments.
With telehealth visits going from the thousands to the millions in just a few months, telehealth platforms had their work cut out for them in order to meet demand. Some healthcare professionals opted for comprehensive telehealth platforms like TheraPlatform, which offered features like HIPAA-compliant video conferencing, a client portal, invoicing and billing capabilities, and more. Others just wanted a secure video call service that would help them connect virtually with patients. Whatever they ended up using, healthcare providers saw some definite trends among patient diagnoses. The diagnoses often fell into one of five categories:
- Mental health conditions
- Substance use disorders
- Soft tissue/joint problems and diseases
- Developmental disorders
- Acute respiratory infections and diseases
If you look more closely at the specific diagnoses given via telehealth appointments, you’ll see the following:
We might frequently describe ourselves as “feeling depressed” if we’re down in the dumps, but depression as a mental health disorder is a little different. About 7.8% of adults in the US have been diagnosed with depression, and some of those diagnoses came from telehealth visits. Since the disorder isn’t based in physical symptoms, a health screening can easily be performed via video call. If necessary, a doctor can also prescribe counseling or medication to treat the cause or the symptoms of depression.
As a brain disorder, ADHD can also be diagnosed through a telehealth visit just as easily as it can in person. The disorder is characterized by difficulty concentrating and sitting still, as well as with self-control in general. Most ADHD diagnoses happen in children, but adults can be diagnosed with it too. Doctors may prescribe medication for ADHD, or the individual could simply decide to learn more about their symptoms and integrate them into their daily life.
Also known as high blood pressure, this condition is far too prevalent among adults in the US. Hypertension in and of itself may not present an immediate risk to health, but it’s a known risk factor for many other problems, such as strokes, heart attacks, heart disease, and kidney disease. In order to get a diagnosis through a telehealth appointment, you’d need to get a blood pressure reading from a pharmacy, or by using an at-home monitor.
Not only can diabetes be diagnosed through a telehealth appointment, but it can also be more easily managed through virtual visits to the doctor’s office. Using data from blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps, both patients and healthcare providers can monitor and provide ongoing care for the condition. Plus, telehealth also makes it easier for patients to access relevant information on diet and lifestyle changes that will help them manage their condition.
Alcohol Use Disorder
There isn’t much mystery to this one; it’s a well-known fact that drinking too much can lead to serious health consequences, such as liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, and issues with the nervous or digestive systems. In order to diagnose alcoholism during a telehealth appointment, a doctor can ask a series of questions regarding drinking habits and symptoms; they may also be able to identify physical signs of diseases that are linked to heavy drinking. After a diagnosis, the patient will be directed to recovery resources that will help them overcome the disorder.
As a diagnosable mental health disorder, anxiety is characterized by feelings of panic, fear, and overwhelming dread. Physical symptoms include hyperventilating, shaking, elevated heart rate, and trouble concentrating. Some people’s anxiety is mainly triggered in social or public situations, while for others it’s pretty much constant. It’s diagnosed through a mental health screening, so there’s no need to be physically present for a doctor to identify the disorder.
When someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, it may leave such an impression on their mind that they continue to “experience” the event over and over again in their mind. This can lead to chronic anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms. Just like with other mental health conditions, most doctors arrive at a PTSD diagnosis by asking questions as part of a mental health screening; this means that telehealth is a good venue for this particular diagnosis.
Short for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD is essentially clinically diagnosable heartburn. A specific part of the esophagus becomes weakened, which allows stomach acid to travel into the esophagus and cause an unpleasant burning sensation. GERD symptoms tend to be quite specific, so a healthcare provider can give a diagnosis by simply hearing about the patient’s symptoms; no further testing is needed.
You probably know this condition by another name, high cholesterol. While you do need a blood test in order to be diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, the condition can be managed, monitored, and treated through telehealth appointments. It’s rare to experience obvious symptoms of high cholesterol, but a family history of the condition can tell you whether or not you’re likely to have it yourself.
The most common method to test for asthma is through a tool called a spirometer, which measures how fast someone can expel air from their lungs. This can be done from home, so a patient who potentially has asthma could take the test and share the results with their doctor. The healthcare provider will also ask about specific symptoms since asthma can be caused by many different things (such as allergies, genetics, viral infections, etc.).
Telehealth has become much more common over the last couple of years, and experts say that this trend is likely to continue. Given how well it works for diagnosing, managing, and treating so many conditions, it makes sense to keep using telehealth platforms for the foreseeable future.