Since there is no one-size-fits-all telehealth solution that satisfies patient populations' needs, the need for increased investments in enhancing telehealth services has never been greater.
Fremont, CA: In the past year, no technology had such a fast rise in adoption as telehealth. In the early months of the pandemic, almost a third of all visits included telemedicine. Compared with the pre-pandemic period, the weekly number of visits increased twenty-three-fold. The emerging evidence points to telehealth being an integral component of care delivery going forward nearly a year after the pandemic. Telehealth visits are dropping off from the peaks of the early months of the pandemic, however, as in-person visits continue to pick up.
Telehealth now stands at a crossroads as the change to virtual treatment is real. However, the CMS telehealth reimbursement rules, which were loosened in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, have yet to become permanent. Therefore, health systems are vigilant to bring more investments forward (and falling back to the more predictable fee-for-service model of payments that favors in-person visits).
At the same time, because there is no one-size-fits-all telehealth solution that satisfies the needs of patient populations, the need for increased investments in enhancing telehealth services has never been greater. The role of demographics, geography, and specialties in virtual treatment design must be understood by healthcare and technology providers. For millennials and seniors, rural and urban inner-city communities, and demographic groups with radically different health care requirements, Telehealth looks different.
Some specialties are more amenable to telehealth than others in healthcare. Although there has been a sharp increase in the number of virtual mental health visits, the same is not true for other specialties, including in-person visits, such as cancer care and vision care. While most individuals might think of telehealth as video visits in real-time, audio visits have become a more critical component of telehealth, especially among populations with low incomes. Telehealth will be unable to expand by ignoring the digital divide that has become a serious problem that affects our most vulnerable communities' access to care.