The Future of Telehealth after the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dec 23, 2020 | Colleen Mueller and Autumn Gertz | Outbreak News

With more than sixteen million cases and over three hundred thousand deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, the advancements of telehealth services have created a new opportunity for healthcare professionals and clients to bring their doctor’s visits right onto their computer screen. [1] Telehealth is a service designed to provide real-time interactions between a patient and a medical professional via a smartphone, tablet, or computer [2]. Healthcare professionals aim to provide the best quality of care to their patients, but with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic providing that care can be in direct conflict with safety. Telehealth has become commonly used among physicians to keep patients safe in their homes, without sacrificing their needs for visits. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, approximately 60-90% of physicians are using some sort of telehealth service [3]. Telehealth services have had a 154% increase in usage in comparison with March of 2020 to usage in March of 2019 [4]. 

With such increases in telehealth services, there is the potential to continue the usage after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. Telehealth opportunities could change the system of healthcare to close the gaps between those who do not have access to local hospitals, doctor’s offices, and urgent care facilities. Americans who feel as if they do not have easy access to a medical facility can receive care more easily if telehealth services extend to their homes rather than needing to travel to a facility fifty miles away. Individuals located in rural America have reported that 26% of patients feel they do not have access to appropriate health care facilities [5]. This lack of access can be minimized by the usage of telehealth services which eliminates the need for traveling long distances, taking off work days, or pulling a child to school for such healthcare facilities. 

When determining the impact on telehealth services, Christina Brown and Nyah Neita explain the increase of virtual visits at Boston Children’s Hospital. Brown and Neita described that prior to the pandemic, virtual visits were used for less than one percent of outpatient visits. During the peak of the pandemic in April, approximately eighty percent of outpatient visits were conducted remotely. Although Boston Children’s Hospital is limited the number of inpatient visits due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, Brown and Neita explained that virtual visits have also been an opportunity to enhance patient care. Both members of the virtual visit team make it explicitly clear that their aim is not to replace in-person care but continue to support visits that are safe. The best role that virtual visits at Boston Children’s Hospital can provide is a method for patient care that is both high quality and feasible to all patients. Telehealth services are a revolutionized method for providing effective patient care without sacrificing safety.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the approach of healthcare for many years to come. While the pandemic has been a tragedy for people around the world, it has also provided a long-waited opportunity to adapt the way healthcare is delivered. Telehealth services may continue to be a bridge for patients to feel safe in their homes while also getting the care they need. 

References

[1] CDC COVID Data Tracker. (2020). United States COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by State.Retrieved December 9, 2020, from https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days

[2] Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19

Pandemic. (2020, June 20). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/telehealth.html

[3] Telehealth's post-pandemic future: Where do we go from here? (2020, September 07).

Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/digital/telehealth-s-post-pandemic-future-where-do-we-go-here

[4] Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic - United

States, January–March 2020. (2020, October 30). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943a3.htm

[5] Kichloo, A., Albosta, M., Dettloff, K., Wani, F., El-Amir, Z., Singh, J., . . . Chugh, S. (2020,

August 18). Telemedicine, the current COVID-19 pandemic and the future: A narrative review and perspectives moving forward in the USA. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7437610/

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