COVID-19 Pandemic Escalated the Value for Care Using Telehealth

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

When national stay-at-home orders were enacted in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, there was a quick and dramatic shift to working from home if possible, teach students using online platforms, and convert face-to-face appointments into virtual meetings. This transition’s impact stretched across all sectors, healthcare included.

Telehealth services have been expanding in recent years, with some organizations and providers launching swiftly ahead with the available technology. Others have been slow or resistant to transition any services online, not wanting to abandon in-person appointments and clinic hours. Some patients have found it impossible to use telehealth services due to the countless barriers that keep telehealth from being widely accessible, such as payer reimbursement and access to necessary technology.

Though telehealth services were already on the rise, 2020 escalated the need for these services with the arrival of COVID-19. Telehealth became a lifeline for patients with a critical need to stay home and for healthcare workers who were fighting diligently to ensure there were enough hospital beds for those flooding through their doors. As the weeks passed and the curve flattened, many states began to reopen, prompting the question—will the use of telehealth dwindle or is this a moment in which telehealth becomes a permanent healthcare option?

Is Telehealth Here to Stay?

Nearly all healthcare organizations now offer telehealth services, and this new shift is unlikely to dissolve once the crisis is over. In a webinar addressing some of the intricacies of privileging telehealth providers, Vicky Searcy, Vice President Consulting Services, VerityStream, a HealthStream company, reflected on how this pandemic is fundamentally changing the way patients receive healthcare services. Searcy says, “This is undoubtedly going to change forevermore the way healthcare services are delivered. And I think that the longer this pandemic goes on, the more firmly entrenched the whole idea of the use of telehealth services will be. It’s going to be impossible to go back.”

Using Telehealth to Help Flatten the Curve

Telehealth has been instrumental in flattening the curve by keeping both well and sick patients at home, allowing high-risk individuals to reduce their exposure, screening potential COVID-19 patients, and reducing the spread among healthcare workers. Included in the CDC recommendations for healthcare facilities (2020) is the guidance to utilize telehealth: “Leveraging telemedicine whenever possible is the best way to protect patients and staff from COVID-19.”

Telehealth Beyond the Coronavirus Pandemic

When asked in an interview for Modern Healthcare (2020) if this pandemic means telehealth has “come of age,” Paul Black, CEO of Allscripts, replied, “Absolutely. This is the tipping point for telehealth. Never again will the default workflow for seeing most patients/consumers be instructions to come to the office, urgent care clinic or hospital emergency room.”

As many wonder if this is the moment signaling that telehealth is here to stay, and US healthcare providers and patients adjust to using FaceTime or Zoom to check in, it seems that there may be no turning back. The question one should ask is, is that a bad thing? When some telehealth programs report reductions in hospitalizations by almost 90% and ER visits by 50%, as seen in the Chronic Care Management Program at Frederick Memorial Hospital (Wicklund, 2019), it seems like a good option to have in the middle of a pandemic.

This blog post excerpts HealthStream’s article, “4 Ways Telehealth Is Impacting the Fight Against COVID-19.” Download it here.

To support caregivers and healthcare organizations as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, HealthStream is offering a collection of carefully curated courses to all customers for free. Likewise, Using HealthStream’s Channels platform for video learning, we have a created a free-access COVID19 Channel in response to the COVID19 pandemic, specifically to support healthcare workers and their families. It contains a collection of curated videos provided by HealthStream and HealthStream’s content partners from several trusted sources on YouTube, such as the CDC and Mayo Clinic.