At the end of 2019, I held the position that an inflection point in healthcare had sneaked by us without most of us noticing. Telehealth had become a real “thing” and the forces driving its expansion were already unstoppable.

What a difference a couple months makes! There’s nothing like a pandemic crisis to accelerate change, especially in medical areas where regulations and restrictions normally put the brakes on change. Well, the brakes are coming off — at least temporarily — and telehealth is well on its way to becoming a significant factor in healthcare delivery in the U.S. It would take an extensive report (if not a book) to cover all the changes of the past few weeks and their implications. We may produce a white paper on the topic before long, but in the meantime, here are just a few of the significant recent developments.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidance that HIPAA enforcement will be relaxed so that healthcare professionals may use communications services that might not be HIPAA certified in order to conduct telehealth services.
  • A survey by Lightico explores COVID-19 & Consumers’ New Remote Reality Among the findings in the report: two-thirds of the consumers surveyed would prefer a virtual consultation before going to see a doctor in person.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have expanded telehealth benefits during the COVID-19 crisis. This includes allowing “clinicians to furnish beneficiary telehealth services residing across the entire country.” This eliminates some of the interstate boundaries that have constrained telehealth until now.
  • Telehealth companies have seen a surge in activity as a result of the crisis. Teladoc reported a 50% week-on-week increase in virtual visits, delivering about 100,000 virtual medical visits in one week.

The advantages of telehealth go on and on. These services can screen patients in their own homes without needing to bring them into clinical settings where they might infect (or be infected by) staff or other patients. They save time and money for both clinicians and patients. In some cases, it might be too difficult for a patient to come into a doctor’s office, running the risk of not getting a consultation if telehealth services aren’t available. And all of this reduces the strain on hospital Emergency Departments and other stressed healthcare resources.

It is clear to me that as patients, providers, and payees become accustomed to the convenience and advantages of telehealth services, we will see them play a much larger role in post-crisis healthcare than they did before the virus appeared.