The new coronavirus pandemic has necessitated the embrace of virtual medicine regardless of how ready patients, doctors, nurses and health care systems were for the shift.
Now that telehealth has been quickly rolled out across the nation and patients and clinicians have found the experience useful, it is unlikely that virtual doctor visits, in all its various forms, will be temporary, said Dr. Devin Mann, senior director for informatics and innovation at New York University.
“Once we get back to whatever the new normal is, I think they will all play a role in the spectrum of ways that we interact between clinicians and patients,” he said. “The genie is definitely out of the bottle.”
Before the pandemic, the use of technology to deliver health care—often referred to as telehealth of telemedicine—was largely a secondary tool clinicians and patients used to exchange emails regarding test results.
But in a matter of days this spring, as hospitals canceled elective procedures and in-clinic visits in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and preserve protective gear, patients were using telemedicine for everything from simple questions with primary care providers to OB-GYN visits.
There is still much that needs to be figured out for telehealth to be a viable option. One of the biggest obstacles are federal and state regulations surrounding payments, and definitions of what constitutes a virtual visit.
Outdated rules and regulations made telehealth difficult before waivers came from states and the federal government in response to the coronavirus pandemic, said Dr. Jeffrey Wolff-Gee, medical director for care delivery transformation at Swedish Medical Center.
“It got held up for the longest time because the regulatory environment around it made it very difficult to do,” he said. “And now we can do it.”
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