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Telehealth’s Short- and Long-Term Future Role Remains Uncertain

Posted by Mike Rigert on Aug 25, 2021 8:30:00 AM

Though telehealth and other virtual health services have become a fixture for healthcare providers and their patients, it’s still unclear how extensively they may be used in the near future and once the pandemic is fully behind us.

Data from a recent survey found that while a large percentage of patients gave telehealth visits high scores, they also indicated that they won’t be mothballing in-person appointments any time soon. In the survey, 87 percent of patients reported high satisfaction rates from their telehealth visits. However, 82 percent said they still prefer in-person doctor’s visits and 80 percent said telehealth appointments met some but not all their health needs.

While 75 percent of patients had primary care visits through telehealth, understandably specialties like ophthalmology, rheumatology, and oncology had low patient usage.

Yet even with the Delta variant currently creating havoc across the country in terms of high case and hospitalization figures, telehealth giant Amwell is projecting lower volumes of telehealth use this fall and winter than initially expected. With new mask mandates in response to the Delta variant and an anticipated weaker flu season due to increased mask use and other protections, the company is projecting 200,000 fewer telehealth visits in the second half of 2021 due to patients going to urgent care instead.

Though it remains to be seen how extensive the current COVID wave will get this fall with schools back in session and wide variations in mask usage and other safety measures across the country, it’s at least clear that telehealth will be an in-demand service in the short term. For a lot of patients, it just comes down to the ease and convenience of being able to participate in a care visit from a location of their choosing.

For others, like patients managing chronic conditions who may have mobility or transportation issues or patients who require only a follow-up visit or check-in, telehealth visits can make a lot more sense. Virtual care visits can reduce the time and resources a provider spends on each patient visit while patients benefit from avoiding difficult or unnecessary travel, and the time and expenses associated with it.

Yet for still others, access to telehealth can mean the difference between getting care and not getting it. This can lead to unhealthy gaps in care and poor outcomes. For example, for underserved populations and those in rural areas, telehealth can be a lifeline to remove barriers to feasible healthcare access.

We’re still waiting upon Congress to determine whether they will expand pandemic telehealth policies past 2021 for purposes of Medicare reimbursement. However, with the Delta variant raging, there’s no telling what the timeline is for putting fully behind us.

To learn more about how to ensure that your patients have an optimal telehealth appointment experience in addition to a satisfactory visit, check out the guide, “Seeing Patients Virtually and Getting Paid for It.”

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Tags: Telehealth
Mike Rigert

Written by Mike Rigert

Mike Rigert has been a content writer in marketing and communications with several technology companies for over a decade. At SR Health, Rigert is tasked with creating compelling content that helps healthcare providers overcome their patient communication inefficiencies to make their organizations more profitable. When he’s not typing away on his computer, he enjoys discussing sci-fi, reading nonfiction, and eating chocolate.