In March, when most of the country shut down in order to slow the spread of COVID 19, when one needed to see the doctor, in many cases the only option was through a virtual visit. In fact, at it’s peak in April, virtual visits made up almost 70% of ALL ambulatory visits. This is according to data released from Epic Health, a large electronic medical records system (EMR). The data include 203 hospitals, 3,513 clinics and 37 health systems across all 50 states. This same data also show the trend reversing once businesses and doctors offices started opening up over the summer. As of July, telehealth made up 21% of visits.
A fifth of all visits is still a significant number. Is this where it will level out? The future of this trend can be affected by many things including whether there are future shutdowns due to COVID, whether insurers will continue to have the same coverage for telehealth visits and at the end of the day there will be patient preference to factor in as well. Regardless, the question remains: How will this affect physician and health system’s ambulatory space needs? We asked in our October survey, and here is how you answered.
The majority of respondents feel that although space may need to be restructured to accommodate an increase in virtual visits, total space needs will remain the same. This plays out in medical office occupancy which thus far has remained remarkably stable. So in essence, telehealth is increasing access to care and certainly a tool for providers in care delivery but it doesn’t replace the need for in person visits. In fact, it may increase TOTAL visits rather than pulling away from in office. Take a look at the total visit trend from Epic Health. As of July total visits were on the rise – we’ll have to see how this evolves into the fall.
At the end of the survey, an open ended question was asked: What do you feel will be the biggest lasting effect on Medical Real Estate? More than half of the written answers related to telehealth and pandemic safety measures making it necessary to restructure space. So the discussion and impacts are evolving, but Telehealth is likely a factor in healthcare that is here to stay.