Telehealth is Here to Stay and Medical Offices Will Need to Change As a Result

Real Estate

Since March, more and more people are visiting their doctor remotely via video calls.

Even before COVID-19, telehealth had grown dramatically, experiencing a 1202% increase in usage from 2012 to 2017, according to new research from Colliers International.

But since 2020 these remote doctors’ visits have grown exponentially. The Advisory Board estimates that there will be one billion virtual visits to US doctors in 2020, driven by COVID patients with mild symptoms and non-COVID patients who don’t want to risk exposure to the disease. The number of patients using telehealth jumped from 11% before COVID to 46% after the pandemic hit.

Despite the widespread use of telehealth this year, it is arguable whether patients will want to make this a permanent change once the pandemic passes. 

One of the biggest obstacles to long-term adoption is insurance reimbursement. Seventy-seven percent of physicians saw issues with reimbursements as potential barriers. Issues with clinical appropriateness (72% of physicians) and lack of physician buy-in (60% of physicians) were also concerns, according to an Advisory Board survey.

Also, patients have many healthcare needs that require a visit to a medical office. While it appears that telehealth is here to stay, Colliers expects a “bounce back” in-office visits as patients grow more comfortable traveling to in-person care.

Still, as the use of telehealth increases, healthcare real estate operators can expect some changes. “As with the issue of remote working on future office space requirements, it is clear that there will be an impact, but, at this stage, more evidence is needed before defining the degree of change and how lasting it will be,” according to Colliers.

Colliers expects that physicians’ offices may need less office space as waiting areas are reduced with fewer patients visiting a physical location. As more administrative staffers work remotely, that could also reduce the need for office space. And, fewer consultation rooms may be needed as patients are treated via technology. That trend could allow users to reduce their footprints or provide more onsite diagnostic services.

If a provider is moving to telehealth, it will need to designate and fit-out spaces for those services, while also increasing technology and 5G connectivity. 

To meet these needs, Colliers expects developers to provide telehealth-compatible space. Owners of existing medical offices should also be able to reconfigure spaces to meet these new demands.

“In conclusion, telehealth is set to have a continued impact on the location and provision of healthcare services,” according to Colliers. “It is viewed as complementary to, rather than a complete substitute for, in-person care.”

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