Forbes | It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and the explosion of telehealth and virtual care has been one of the most constructive advances to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. The gains for the patient include convenience, affordability, and rapid access to quality care while eliminating the risk of viral spread. The field of virtual health care, delivered from a remote location by text, phone, or video, has been accelerated by five years or more.
But we must ensure our nation does not lose the gains made when this public health emergency comes to an end.
Indeed America’s health systems, notoriously slow to change, have transformed their approach to care with lightning speed. Prior to COVID, health systems saw telehealth use in a 3-4% range. Now, providers are planning and financially budgeting for a larger percentage of virtual care, at around 25 – 30%. Geisinger CEO Dr. Jaewon Ryu recently shared with me that as result of COVID, they have gone from perhaps a few hundred telemedicine visits a day to conducting 4,500 – 5,000 a day. Medicare-covered virtual visits have skyrocketed – jumping from 12,000 per week to a million per week. And Americans are increasingly comfortable with a virtual visit, with surveys showing 74% of consumers are comfortable using telemedicine to have a conversation with a doctor.
For years I have been heavily involved in virtual care, beginning with my days 30 years ago taking care of over a hundred transplant patients remotely. Today I serve on the board of two virtual health care companies, Teladoc Health (physical and mental health) and Smile Direct Club (dental health). I have seen firsthand how our recent policy changes at the federal and state levels have unleashed private sector innovation in an overwhelmingly positive way—stepping in to address care gaps created by the pandemic’s stay at home orders.