Telehealth has long been touted as being the next “big thing” in healthcare delivery, however, it has failed to gain a widespread foothold within our existing healthcare systems. The reasons for this failure are numerous and include an inability to receive proper reimbursement and a profession that has been slow to adopt alternative ways to deliver clinical care. As a result, telehealth has existed on the fringe of standard healthcare practice, used sparingly and only in specific situations.
All it took for telehealth to be thrust into everyday healthcare and enter into a period of rapid expansion was a global pandemic. SARS CoV-2 caused an almost complete halt to in-person healthcare in 2020, decreasing ambulatory clinic visits by 60%1. In response to the pandemic, healthcare systems in the US increased telehealth utilization by 30%1. Even as healthcare systems begin allowing patients back into clinics for in-person visits, telehealth has remained a viable alternative for patient visits, due in large part to healthcare providers’ positive experience with telehealth, a more robust reimbursement model, and relaxation of geographical boundaries.
Eventually, when the SARS-19 pandemic subsides and healthcare begins moving back towards whatever normal will look like, will the experience with telehealth create enough momentum to move it into mainstream medicine? If recent data regarding patient satisfaction with telehealth is any indication, we are only in the beginning stages of an expansive era of telehealth. For example, a 20212 study found that patient satisfaction was almost 2.5% points higher in telehealth visits as compared to in-person. A 2021 review of telehealth literature showed high satisfaction with telehealth visits by both patients and healthcare providers.
The rapid growth and expansion of telehealth will pose a unique challenge to health services administrators. There are very few administrators who have direct experience in telehealth administration and therefore, this delivery method will be uncharted territory for many administrators. While this growth will benefit patients and providers, it will be the responsibility of the administrators to make this transition as smooth and efficient as possible.
By: Aaron MacDonald, MPH
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- Demeke HB, Pao LZ, Clark H, et al. Telehealth Practice Among Health Centers During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, July 11–17, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1902–1905. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6950a4external icon https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210119.724670/full/
- Andrews, E., Berghofer, K., Long, J., Prescott, A., & Caboral-Stevens, M. (2020). Satisfaction with the use of telehealth during COVID-19: An integrative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances, 2, 100008. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnsa.2020.100008