Roughly a year and a half ago, the sudden spread of COVID-19 quickly turned telehealth solutions into necessary tools for specialty practice as they struggled to continue providing care when lockdowns and forced closures were put in place. While the widespread use of connected care was already on the horizon, there is no doubt that the current levels of telehealth adoption were heavily accelerated by the pandemic. This began when a large number of states enacted temporary waivers of preexisting HIPAA rules and other regulations to allow for faster and easier use of telehealth solutions during the public health emergency.
Now, of course, the pandemic has been slowly winding down for at least a few months with the rollout of vaccines. In response, multiple states are choosing to allow their telehealth waivers to expire, instead allowing the federal government to take over future regulation, and some health insurers have begun reinstating past barriers to telehealth reimbursement.
So, this raises the question… as the pandemic ends, where does telehealth stand both now and in the future? In this blog, we will try to provide some answers on where telehealth is going from here.
This is NOT the End of Telehealth
There is one that that needs to be made perfectly clear from the start—this is NOT the end of telehealth. It is simply a period of transitional shift in policy, mostly from state to federal regulation. As we have already discussed on this blog, the use of telehealth will not end with the pandemic and patient demand for connected care options will continue to become more of an expectation as consumers take increased ownership of their healthcare spending.
Federal Telehealth Legislation is Coming
Telehealth is already receiving attention when it comes to federal legislation. For example, a new bill seeks to increase federal funding to improve telehealth usage and expand availability of high-speed broadband in rural areas. And this is only the beginning. We are likely to see more such telemedicine bills being passed, at both state and federal levels, throughout the next year or two. To help you keep tabs on new and upcoming telehealth legislation, you might consider downloading a tracking tool such as the one made available by the American Telemedicine Association.
Telehealth Use is Actually Stabilizing (at an Insanely High Level)
It is true that telehealth usage has been falling across the United States for the last three months. However, this was an easily predicted occurrence. Telehealth hit an unprecedented peak during the pandemic, and now that the emergency situation has subsided, it only makes sense that telehealth use would drop. In fact, when you look at data on telehealth use, it becomes clear that this drop is simply a move towards stabilization.
Since the start of 2021, telehealth use has stabilized and continues at 38 times pre-pandemic levels.
According to new research from McKinsey, telehealth use saw its largest spike back in April 2020. This shouldn’t come as a shock, considering the entire country was neck deep in COVID-19 lockdowns at that time. From then through June of 2020, use declined and experienced minor fluctuations throughout the rest of that year. Since the start of 2021, however, telehealth use has stabilized and continues at (wait for it) 38 times pre-pandemic levels.
While telehealth use may seem to be dropping when compared to where it was during the pandemic, it is still insanely higher than what it was before the pandemic and is likely to stay that way. Abandoning telehealth now would be a grave and hasty mistake, one that will only lead to more practices having to readopt it when new regulations are made permanent or another public health emergency arises.
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