Apr 08th 2021

After Being Tried by Many, Telehealth Is Here to Stay

With people reluctant to visit healthcare providers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, choosing telehealth has become increasingly popular and widespread. Telehealth—the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare delivery—can take various forms and includes videoconferencing, or communicating over the internet or the telephone. The telemedicine option has been especially helpful to people who have physical limitations and have difficulty traveling.

study published in The Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that after the onset of the pandemic, telehealth use was rapidly adopted in a variety of medical fields—from psychotherapy, to podiatry, to family practice. Before, many health systems did not use telehealth for routine care, and even health systems considered to have high rates of telehealth use saw fewer than 100 video visits per day. Now, the study reports, many health systems are seeing more than 600 patients per day via video. At one institution, telehealth visits within a 4-week period increased from less than 1% to 70% of total visits, with as many as 1,000 video visits per day.

Overcoming reluctance to use telemedicine

 

Dr. Mayank K. Shah, chief medical officer for Alegis Care, an eviCore business, says that prior to the pandemic, there was reluctance to use telehealth. “There's a notion in our culture that in-person care cannot be substituted by any other means. We think there's a value in seeing a provider face-to-face and interacting with them, that a lot of patients rely on nonverbal cues of communication."

As more and more patients use telemedicine for all types of medical appointments—from initial consultations to medical check-ins and follow-up appointments, many of which never needed to be in person in the first place— this notion has proven to be false. “Now there's often no alternative, it's the only way you can connect," Dr. Shah says. He notes that after people “jump on board to try it," 95% of patients want to use telehealth again. “All those fears and biases they had, resolved. You still can have meaningful conversations, meaningful insights, and sometimes there's no need for physical touch."

Telehealth appointments can increasingly be supported by emerging technologies, such as blood pressure cuffs, smart watches to monitor EKG and heartbeats, or digital devices like a stethoscope or otoscope that can send live physical exam information directly to your doctor.

"Imagine a person with diabetes who visits their doctor twice a year and manages their care the rest of the time on their own. With telehealth, every single moment they can connect with a healthcare provider. They can ask questions so they better understand their condition, or get the emotional support they need; all of that can now be supported through these digital platforms. This increases the quality and experience of care," Dr. Shah explains.

Removing telemedicine barriers

 

The pandemic has helped remove other barriers to telehealth, such as rules around reimbursements (doctors often couldn't get paid for visits that were not in person) and government regulations. “Having regulatory barriers lifted has facilitated access and has increased the ease of connection through telemedicine," Dr. Shah says.

Mike Bush, Vice President of Post-Acute Care Growth at eviCore, agrees that the "barriers are coming down," and says that before the pandemic, systems like Medicare and Medicaid had a lot of specific guidance/regulations/prohibitions" in place about telemedicine. “Once the pandemic is over, those kind of barriers will be difficult to put back up," says Bush.

January 2021 study, published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal, similarly predicts a vital ongoing role for telehealth going forward. “It is shortsighted...to think that the expansion of this technology will be limited to handling the current crisis," the study authors assert. "Although plenty of uncertainty exists over the state of our healthcare system post-pandemic, this medium will remain a useful tool for providing prompt medical care that transcends geographic and socioeconomic barriers."