Giving Compass' Take:

• Lori Uscher-Pines dissects the state of telehealth and urges policymakers to make it more sustainable for providers post-pandemic.

• How do telehealth benefits vary across different communities? How can donors help policymakers to make equity a priority in establishing telehealth post-pandemic?

• Read more about the obstacles telehealth is facing during COVID-19.

For our family and countless others, telehealth has truly been one of the great success stories of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has helped to maintain continuity of care for millions of Americans, preserve personal protective equipment, and facilitate social distancing. Yet, its increased use in this unprecedented time does not necessarily reflect a large-scale embrace of telehealth by patients and their providers.

The pandemic didn't allow providers the opportunity to pilot test and refine telehealth services prior to rollout, or to have much agency in the initial decision. Accelerating this life cycle helped providers surmount two major obstacles to innovation: lack of familiarity and resistance to change. Now that most U.S. physicians have had a taste of telehealth, what still stands in the way of sustained use, and what can policymakers do to cultivate its growth?

While some physicians have acknowledged being pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to shift to telehealth, this sentiment was not universal. Those less enamored with telehealth explained in interviews how time-consuming it was for staff to prepare patients for telehealth, triage technical issues, and change clinic workflows. Many felt video visits were often difficult to implement due to challenges at the patient or clinic levels. By supporting strategies to improve digital literacy, increase platform usability, and bring devices and broadband to underserved populations and health care settings, policymakers could encourage providers to revisit telehealth.

Like my now basement-dwelling husband, many transitioned to telehealth reluctantly but will offer it as long as the policy environment remains supportive. Nonetheless, telehealth visits are already declining and may continue to decline unless states enter lockdown again. Without permanent policy changes, it is unclear if telehealth services will represent a significant proportion of U.S. health care visits in the long run.

Read the full article about telehealth benefits by Lori Uscher-Pines at RAND Corporation.