When COVID-19 hit the U.S. and fears about the virus began preventing people from seeing their healthcare providers, all eyes seemed to turn to telemedicine. Though around for years before the pandemic, telemedicine had not taken hold the way several analysts predicted it would. Many people viewed COVID-19 as a make-or-break moment for telemedicine. If remote healthcare was ever going to get buy-in from the relevant stakeholders, now was the time.
More than 4 months into the spread of the virus in the U.S., it is now possible to do more than speculate about the potential impact of the pandemic on telemedicine uptake. Data have accumulated not only on telemedicine use but also on regulatory changes that have facilitated remote medical care in the face of social distancing.
Virtual medical visits have risen dramatically, with both patients and providers reporting high levels of satisfaction with telemedicine and the conveniences it affords. In addition, both public and private insurers have agreed to pay for telemedicine visits at rates that are equivalent to what they had paid for in-person visits. The federal government has also loosened regulations that had before acted as barriers to virtual communication between doctors and patients.
The success of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly demonstrated the vast potential and value associated with remote medical care. It would therefore not be surprising if providers and patients alike continued to use (and even prefer) telemedicine after the pandemic is over, particularly for certain types of care like care related to prevention, chronic disease monitoring, or behavioral health.
Despite the foreseeable continued demand for telemedicine services, the sustainability of telemedicine will depend at least in part on whether the temporary changes that were put in place to make remote care possible during the pandemic become permanent. Huge investments in businesses providing remote medical services have been made in recent weeks, pointing to some level of confidence that telemedicine is here to stay. Given the access and value it has provided, telemedicine as a long-term healthcare option could help us overcome some major healthcare challenges.