Giving Compass' Take:

• Here are some ideas on how to alleviate the barriers to access for long-term, sustainable telehealth services beyond COVID-19. 

• What are the benefits of these services? How can donors help tackle some of these challenges, such as broadband internet and tech literacy? 

• Read more about how telehealth is helping communities. 

The coronavirus outbreak, or COVID-19, has fundamentally transformed our lives and communities, contributing to economic declines, disruptions in schooling, and distressed hospital systems. However, the pandemic has generated some silver linings, including the widespread adoption of telehealth that has helped to mitigate the risk of community spread by reducing unnecessary hospital visits and ensuring real-time access to medical providers for millions of Americans. According to a report by McKinsey, in the aftermath of COVID-19 epidemic, medical providers have rapidly scaled their telehealth offerings and are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via remote access platforms than they did before. Some patients have even come to prefer virtual office visits as medical providers have been less resistant to the change and even more willing to administer remote care from an internet-enabled device.

Last month, the Trump administration lauded their efforts to relax the legislative and regulatory restrictions limiting the use and adoption of remote medical care. And rightfully so. Early reports indicate various benefits from cost reduction in both medical and mental services to quality improvement, as well as increased patient satisfaction.  But given the ravaging effects of the pandemic on U.S. citizens and the focus on health care leading up to the national election, will telehealth still be available, or potentially be made permanent, as an option for patients in need of immediate, primary, or secondary care? Will previous regulatory guardrails be reinstated on emerging models of health care delivery, potentially suppressing the number of providers and patients accessing such resources?

To start, certain conditions must be instituted to ensure long-term delivery of telehealth services, starting with access to high-speed broadband among patients and providers, national interoperability, new fraud detection methods, and more lenient and favorable federal and state policies towards its use. Further, as people of color, especially African Americans, become disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in both infections and deaths, the adoption of telehealth practices to address and potentially reduce the immediate and long-term delivery of care will be important. Across the U.S., African Americans are dying at a rate of 88.4 deaths per 100,000 population, more than twice the rate of white Americans (40.4 deaths per 100,000 population).

Read the full article about sustaining telehealth services by Nicol Turner-Lee and Niam Yaraghi at Brookings.