The rise of telehealth during 2020 was among the most surprising and dramatic technology accelerations not anticipated prior to the pandemic.
While some organizations reported more than 10,000 percent increases in April and May, telehealth utilization rates have since settled down. Even still, they remain at levels notably higher than before COVID-19. And while it’s too early to know what the lasting percentage of care delivered via telehealth technologies will ultimately become, the substantive questions now are what new opportunities will the increased telehealth usage open? How will those ultimately contribute to the betterment of health care in a system that is more affordable, accessible and equitable?
To address those questions, Health Evolution Editor-in-Chief Tom Sullivan interviewed Danielle Rusella, President of Strategic Partnerships at Amwell during the webcast, The future of telehealth: virtual care, provider enablement, and improving equity.
What follows is an abridged version of the interview. A link to watch the video on-demand is at the bottom of this article.
Health Evolution: The increased utilization of telehealth has been a significant storyline of 2020, at least in health care, but what are some of the lesser-known lessons learned during the pandemic?
Russella: Let me give you some of the top ones. I think the emergence, and perhaps better said the proliferation of, hybrid care models have become more understood. Virtual primary care would be a great example of hybrid care. This is the stitching together for the consumer in a very profound way of virtual and physical care, because it is not just one episode but an ongoing care experience.
That leads into my next point, telehealth’s role in enabling longitudinal care more comprehensively, from injury to illness to chronic disease, in some cases, end of life, in clinic, and hospital. We have providers that are now trained and clinic staff that are trained, to get patients set up with telehealth and apps, so that they can have their follow-up visit using technology. The wide range of use cases was under our noses this whole time, and amazing things were already happening, but there was still some reluctance to push the boundaries.
Another is telehealth’s role in helping to keep providers safe, but it isn’t just providers or doctors. Case managers, coaches, social workers, customer service reps, advocates and support staff — they all got online, too, and offered patients and consumers a more personal immersive experience. Overall, it’s really about understanding the broad range of caring that could be accomplished utilizing telehealth.