Health Life

Telehealth scales up during the pandemic to offer patient care in the safety of the home

Simulation of a virtual urgent care visit at the Medical University of South Carolina. MUSC Health offered these visits for free to help screen patients with suspected COVID-19. Credit: Sarah Pack, Medical University of South Carolina

Hailed for its ability to erase distance between health care providers in cities and patients in rural areas, telehealth has ironically enabled medical care to continue in a time when we all must keep our distance.

Across the country, use has spiked as providers offer virtual patient visits to ensure medical needs are met while minimizing COVID-19 exposure. Regulatory agencies have loosened some restrictions on telehealth during this crisis, and more and more payers have begun to reimburse for it as they would for any other medical service.

The Medical University of South Carolina, one of only two Telehealth Centers of Excellence nationwide, quickly mounted a four-pronged response to the COVID-19 pandemic that ensured both continuity of care for with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and continued ambulatory, also referred to as outpatient, care for all other patients. The team of telehealth and bioinformatics experts who led the effort documented their approach and its success in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

Early on, MUSC Health and telehealth leaders saw the need for a coordinated response to the pandemic.

“The same realization was coming to the forefront of the minds of the leadership, myself included, in telehealth that this was going to be a big problem,” said Dee Ford, M.D., director of the MUSC Telehealth Center of Excellence and lead author on the article. “We needed in our own way to create some kind of response to what we believed to be a pretty significant public health problem. Planning started before we even had a case