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The Growth of Telehealth

 

「The Growth of Telehealth」

By: Rapid Access International, Inc. January 2021

Telehealth has taken off in the age of Covid-19 and social distancing. It is hardly a new concept, but the circumstances of the current pandemic have led to new policies designed to pay for telehealth services. Health Affairs blogger Susan DeVore recently noted “Premier data shows that, as a result of COVID-19, virtual visits in the ambulatory setting during the third quarter of 2020 were up by a factor of 30 year over year.”1 And, with more health care providers and employees now willing to utilize telehealth services, employers are looking to expand the range of virtual care options in their benefits packages.

This is an initiative that has long been encouraged by large employers, with 80 percent of them believing that virtual care will have a significant impact on the delivery of care in the future.2 This figure is up from 50 percent in 2018, with 53 percent of these large employers expecting to implement more virtual care solutions in 2021, as their top initiative for the year, according to a Business Group on Health Report.3 4

What is Telehealth?

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as the ‘use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. Technologies include video conferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.’5

Expansion of Telehealth Services

Telehealth services have been considered especially critical for rural areas that lack sufficient health care, including specialty care. Now, with widespread social distancing practices in place, the acceptance and adoption of telehealth services is expanding significantly.

In contrast to much slower adoption among health care providers pre-pandemic, the widespread adoption of these services over the past year has placed these providers in a position to observe the outcomes and potential of digital care as a service now and into the future.

Access to Telehealth

As the adoption of telehealth expands, it is important to ensure that the initial primary targets for telehealth services are not forgotten. Residents of rural and remote areas often have issues with reliable and affordable access to broadband connections.

The very inequities that telehealth was meant to bridge could be exacerbated due to the costs and technology that separates rural and remote areas from urban areas. But, this is not a foregone conclusion. It is quite possible that the pursuit of innovative telehealth solutions may provide for an opportunity that the opposite may occur.

VMware vice president for North America, Michael Robinson, expressed this sentiment in a webinar hosed by U.S. News & World Report6: "I think we're seeing the same kind of precedent where you can utilize mobile technology to solve some of those inequities. I think that the technology can create a broader chasm, and what we want to do is actually shrink the chasm."7

Robinson is referencing the fact that mobile technologies have become an equalizer in many ways to bridge the wealth gap and the urban-rural gap for access to certain services - mobile commerce being a prime example. In the same webinar, Suja Chandrasekaran, senior executive vice president and chief information and digital officer for CommonSpirit Health expanded on this sentiment with her comments: "The adoption of technology … and being able to embrace commerce in those different modalities almost became an equalizer. And I would like to see the same in this industry in the different ways in which we're provisioning care."8

In the end, the coronavirus will have wreaked havoc on this world. Perhaps one of the silver linings to this experience is that it has opened people’s minds to the possibilities of telehealth; and the newfound demand for these services will have created an opportunity to quickly expand the breadth of healthcare services across the wealth gap and the urban-rural divide.

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