A digital scale, a portable blood pressure monitor, and an internet connection. And just like that, my wife was attending her prenatal appointments in the age of COVID-19. Like millions of Americans, this was our first foray into telehealth.
Abiding by social distancing measures and maximizing our healthcare system’s capacity necessitated the increased use of telehealth during the pandemic. Recent momentum, however, including rising skill demand, corporate investment, and recently-introduced program offerings from brand-name schools signal that we might not be turning back.
Telehealth’s moment has arrived, but what does that mean for schools?
The Rise of Telehealth
We were not alone in experiencing telehealth for the first time in 2020—i.e., the use of electronic information and telecommunication technology to provide healthcare when the patient and the doctor are not in the same place at the same time. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reported that the first quarter of 2020 saw a 50% increase in telehealth visits compared to the same period in 2019.
The last week of March 2020 alone saw a 154% increase compared to the same week in the prior year. Taken alone, a spike in virtual doctor’s appointments during a public health crisis does not point to long-term adoption, but job posting data reveals the labor market is reacting to these trends.
Figure 1 below plots the number of unique national job postings containing the hard skills “telehealth” and/or “telemedicine,” which grew between September 2016 and March 2021, with the most dramatic growth seen after March 2020.
Since September 2016, unique job postings containing the skills “telehealth” and/or “telemedicine” grew by more than 1,400%. Though from a small base, this outpaced growth seen by all job postings during this time (just over 115%). While the number of virtual visits and job postings may be reactive measurements stemming from COVID-19, other recent events signal the staying power of telehealth.
In May 2021, Walmart announced its planned acquisition of telehealth provider MeMD which, along with Walmart’s current in-person health centers, reinforces its commitment to delivering omnichannel health delivery nationwide. In March 2021, Amazon announced the expansion of Amazon Care, its app-based urgent and primary care service, to its employees in all 50 states and signaled it plans to make it available to other companies as an employee benefit.
Even the U.S. Government has joined the action with the U.S. Department of Agriculture announcing a $42 million investment in telehealth infrastructure aimed at improving the health outcomes of rural residents. CB Insights, a market intelligence company, reported telehealth investments hit $4.2 billion in the first quarter of 2021, representing an all-time high. Taken together, an increase of virtual appointments, strong demand in the labor market, and signs of investment momentum create a hard-to-ignore phenomenon.
Who is in Demand?
Digging deeper into the job posting data reveals that the growth of the telehealth industry, and the demand for telehealth skills, currently presents more of an opportunity for upskilling practicing healthcare professionals and providers as opposed to reskilling workers for a career change. Figure 2 details the top 10 occupations appearing in job postings containing the skills “telehealth” and/or “telemedicine.”
Top 10 Occupations Matching to “Telehealth” and/or “Telemedicine” Skills
(March 2019- March 2021)
|Typical Entry Level Education
(According to BLS)
|Registered Nurses||18,724||Bachelor’s Degree|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||13,297||Master’s Degree|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||7,782||Bachelor’s Degree|
|Nurse Practitioners||5,335||Master’s Degree|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||4,189||Bachelor’s Degree|
|Psychiatrists||4,154||Doctoral or Professional Degree|
|Family Medicine Physicians||3,751||Doctoral or Professional Degree|
|Physicians, All Other; and Ophthalmologists, Except Pediatric||3,574||Doctoral or Professional Degree|
|Physician Assistants||3,010||Master’s Degree|
|Social and Human Service Assistants||2,572||High School Diploma or Equivalent|
Figure 2. Source: Emsi
Of the top 10 occupations appearing in the job posting search, 90% require a bachelor’s degree or higher while 60% require a master’s degree or higher—a clear signal that those who would benefit from developing or sharpening telehealth and telemedicine skills are those who are either established professionals in the health field or are on their way through a degree program. The only occupation that has a typical entry-level education below a bachelor’s degree is Social and Human Service Assistants. The job posting data alone strongly indicates that telehealth programs are best targeted to established medical professionals.
The Lay of the Land
The evidence suggests there has been a growing need for telehealth-trained medical professionals, but who has filled the training gap? A market scan for providers of telehealth programming reveals a range of providers (both institutions of higher education and alternative providers), formats (both courses and certificates), and options (both for- and non-credit). The sample below displays the market variety:
- Institutional Courses. Cornell University (Cornell) and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) both offer telemedicine courses targeting healthcare professionals, medical administrators, and medical students. eCornell’s offering examines how to lead successful virtual encounters with patients focusing on the verbal and nonverbal communication skills required in telemedicine appointments in a two-week course costing $999. Penn Nursing offers two online courses covering the basics and the practical considerations of telehealth through two-hour sessions costing $85 each.
- Institutional Certificates. Purdue University (Purdue) recently launched a four-course, 12-credit online graduate certificate in Telemental Health Counseling, with an emphasis on providing mental health services to underserved populations, targeting a range of professionals from social workers and therapists to doctors and probation officers. Total costs range from $8,400 to $9,000, depending on residency. Meanwhile, the University of Delaware (Delaware) offers an online and non-credit Advanced Telehealth Coordinator Certificate program geared toward clinicians, administrators, and healthcare IT professionals interested in utilizing telehealth practices. It is a 15-week program costing $1,495.
- Alternative Providers. The Telehealth Certification Institute, claiming to have trained 20,000 healthcare providers, offers several certificate programs targeted to different healthcare audiences (e.g., TeleMental Health Training Certificate and TeleStroke Facilitator Certificate). Program costs range from $60 to $350 and are offered through online, self-study formats.
The Bottom Line
One inherent challenge in assessing emerging program markets is the absence of long-term data. In the case of telehealth, demand spikes attributed to COVID-19 provide pause for the prospect of future sustainable growth, but recent investments in the industry provide optimism that it is not just a flash in the pan.
What about risks? Long-term, as telehealth practices become more and more mainstream, aligned skill development may be folded into established healthcare practitioner and professional degree programs. That, plus the job postings data, suggests a degree program focused on telehealth is currently a non-starter.
As the market currently stands, shorter offerings are key as telehealth programming is mostly targeting busy healthcare professionals. But, even full for-credit certificate programs may be rendered less sustainable over time given the low-cost offerings from Cornell, UPenn, Delaware, and the alternative provider space.
Can professionals learn the same skills in programming from the University of Delaware compared to a full certificate program that may charge thousands more? Do professionals need to show credentialing or just acquired skills to excel in the practice of telehealth? The answers to these questions will become clearer over time. In the meantime, one thing schools that are interested in jumping into the telehealth craze can do is have conversations with local healthcare organizations to assess what professionals in their local areas want and need.
Pandemic-Proof Your Enrollment Strategy with Admitted Student Research
Given the challenges of the past year and that many institutions’ pushed back deposit deadlines for admitted students beyond May 1, we have opened a second deadline for schools who are still interested in participating in this year’s Eduventures Admitted Students Research.
By participating in the Eduventures Admitted Student Research, your office will gain actionable insights on:
- Nationwide benchmarks for yield outcomes
- Changes in the decision-making behaviors of incoming freshmen that impact recruiting
- Gaps between how your institution was perceived and your actual institution identity
- Regional and national competitive shifts in the wake of the post-COVID-19 environment
- Competitiveness of your updated financial aid model