Dueling opinions: What’s ahead for telehealth?
Virtual healthcare visits surged during the peak of the pandemic, boosted by regulatory waivers. Telemedicine is here to stay, but in what role?
What’s your opinion on making regulatory flexibilities permanent?
Mitchell Fong: Payment parity was one of the biggest barriers for utilizing telehealth pre-pandemic. The silver lining is we’ve been forced to use this technology, and with that, we’ve been forced to measure the impact it can have on the patient experience and the patient journey. I’m also really interested in changes to state licensure.
Dr. Robert Berenson: Allowing virtual visits from the home changes the whole game and is beneficial for the patients. It’s arbitrary to say you have to go to some specific place. There are costs associated with that. We should allow it from the home, but we shouldn’t use fee-for-service. It’s the best reason to use alternative payment models.
What do you see as telehealth’s major shortcomings during the pandemic?
Fong: One of my concerns is how many of the devices were vetted to the level and quality that they really should have been, particularly when we think of remote monitoring and hospital at home. Once the pandemic hit, every vendor out there and new vendors I’ve never heard of had products that were being used for monitoring.
Berenson: It clearly exacerbated equity issues, like in rural areas or with low-income people who don’t have access to computers. There were also problems with bandwidth and not having access to the internet. We had the same issues making appointments for vaccines. I also think it became too easy for some physicians to practice from home.
What do you see as telehealth’s greatest strength going forward post pandemic?
Fong: I think it poses amazing opportunities for re-imagining healthcare, creating the right access to care at the right time at the right place. How do we truly address the healthcare deficits we have as a nation? I think we can use these technologies to proactively flag metrics that allow us to improve the patient experience beyond the walls of healthcare.
Berenson: The data pre-pandemic showed telehealth tended to be an “add-on” service; during the pandemic, it was largely a care substitute. I think it will revert to mostly being an add-on. And that’s what it should be. There needs be much more frequent contact between practices and patients, especially those who need chronic conditions managed. That’s where telehealth has great potential.