“We’ve heard from our patients that they’d like to have follow-up visits with telehealth,” Victor says. “A cohort of these patients will opt for this service, and we’ll continue it even after COVID-19 ends.”
Ayalasomayajula says that while telemedicine won’t ever replace the need for in-person visits, it will increasingly help doctors deliver a range of care to patients, from virtual triage all the way through disease management.
“Your computer is becoming your wellness check as part of a true continuum of care,” she says.
Can telehealth bridge the access gap?
To realize the technology’s full potential, HP’s Ayalasomayajula says the healthcare system must address unequal access to technology and connectivity due to age, socioeconomic factors, or geography.
“We need to figure out how to do this for anyone who would benefit,” she says. “This isn’t just about responding to COVID-19 lockdowns. Digital health can help us address the many healthcare challenges that are staring us in the face — if we get it right.”
One way to broaden access, says Raja Bhadury, worldwide head of enterprise healthcare at HP, is for tech companies to keep innovating to drive down costs of computers, webcams, and broadband. Cheaper tech, patient and doctor education on how to use it, and programs like language translation will help alleviate longstanding access gaps.
“Look at the number of psychiatrists we have in some rural areas — it’s abysmal,” Bhadury says, pointing to the fact that 90% of psychiatrists and psychologists work in metropolitan areas. Thousands more would be needed to address rural shortages. “Telemedicine can provide access to so many more people,” he says.
Another way to get more patients access is to get more doctors to adopt telehealth as a normal part of their healthcare offerings. The pandemic caused federal regulators in charge of setting Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates to increase payments to doctors for providing telehealth, creating incentives that make virtual care an option for many more older Americans.
Geisler, the Florida retiree, says she scheduled appointments for online visits with two specialists after that first online rheumatology visit.
“COVID-19 definitely brought virtual visits to the front of my mind,” she says. “Why go in if I don’t have to?”
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