How the Pandemic Reshaped Telehealth — and Where the Technology Goes From Here

Telehealth has proved invaluable during the pandemic, but now that mass adoption is here, what’s next?
Written by Michael Hines
October 19, 2021Updated: October 19, 2021

There’s no question that technology has shifted the conversation on mental health. Social media has provided a public forum for people to discuss their struggles with depression, anxiety, addiction, and more. Mindfulness and wellness apps have normalized meditation and self care for the masses. Telehealth has made it possible to see a therapist without leaving the house.

Telehealth in particular has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, which has triggered an increase in people reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to ABC News. Ralph Zimmermann, chief research officer at Los Angeles-based healthtech company SimplePractice, confirmed this, telling Built In that demand for the company’s telehealth product shot up “almost overnight” after March 2020.
 

‘Practically Limitless’SimplePractice’s CEO on the Future of Telehealth


However, as demand for telehealth increased, so too did expectations from both patients and providers. 

“Our customers and their clients became more vocal about their experience and technical barriers, including support in low-bandwidth, rural areas,” Zimmermann said.

As SimplePractice rolled out product enhancements to iron out connection issues, the company also began addressing more general challenges, including ease of access. The SimplePractice team also began thinking about how the conversation around mental health will continue to evolve and what patients will expect from telehealth going forward.

“We anticipate a shift in what mental health means,” Zimmermann said. “It’s more than someone struggling with anxiety or depression. It will become a part of many individuals’ everyday life. As a result, consumers will demand a more holistic, individualized and digital healthcare experience.”

 

Ralph Zimmermann
Chief Research Officer

What changed for your business and industry in 2020, and how much of that was driven by the pandemic and the impacts that had on consumer behavior?

At SimplePractice, the pandemic accelerated the need for virtual healthcare across the private practice health and wellness industry while also putting a spotlight on mental health. When the first stay-at-home orders were issued, our customers had to rapidly adjust to their new reality and quickly adopt telehealth as the primary form of communication with their clients. And while telehealth has been a feature for our customers to conduct virtual sessions with their clients since 2018, adoption was steady until March 2020 — then it accelerated rapidly almost overnight. 

Another significant impact on this industry was the stay-at-home order and the pandemic’s impact on all of us — the increased anxiety and depression which we’re still experiencing to this day. It brought mental health into everyday conversations, reducing stigma and causing an unprecedented demand for mental health services. Many of our customers are on the front lines of this shift, working long hours to support those in need. 
 

We knew there had to be a way to give those in need more options and easier access to mental health professionals.


How did you adapt your product to address these shifting trends?

The spike in telehealth adoption challenged our team to scale and innovate fast. Our customers and their clients became more vocal about their experience and technical barriers, including support in low-bandwidth, rural areas. We’ve always put customer needs at the forefront of every business decision, and we doubled down on that commitment by adding resources and team members and accelerating product advancements. 

As public conversation around the barriers to mental health support grew, we knew there had to be a way to give those in need more options and easier access to mental health professionals. That led us to develop Monarch in under eight months. Today, Monarch is putting together a large network of mental health practitioners across the country who offer online appointment requests. Thousands of practitioners are on the platform, giving consumers a convenient, transparent way to find the help they need, when they need it. It also gives mental health professionals another way to connect with potential clients and provide those clients with the best possible care.

 

Looking ahead, what lasting effects do you think the pandemic will have on your business and industry? And how do you plan to be part of this next wave of healthtech innovation?

While mental health will continue to be an everyday conversation, we anticipate a shift in what mental health means. It’s more than someone struggling with anxiety or depression. It will become a part of many individuals’ everyday lives. As a result, consumers will demand a more holistic, individualized and digital health care experience.

It’s no longer about automated or antiquated experiences. In an increasingly digital world, practitioners need to build connections with their clients. To us, this means supporting our practitioners to rise to the demands of an increasingly digital-first clientele with tools that streamline their workflows and free up time for themselves and their clients.

It also means that practitioners will expect transparent pricing, simplified reimbursement and measurable outcomes. Lastly, it means telehealth is here to stay. We’ve seen practitioners enjoying the new reality of seeing clients remotely. On the client side, they continue to want the convenience of seeing their practitioner from the comfort of their home. A beautiful side effect of telehealth is that it enables practitioners to connect with clients who are in notoriously underserved communities.

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