June 3, 2020 — “In a matter of three weeks, telehealth has advanced three years,” said Maryann Copenhaver, vice president of business partnerships at Mercy Virtual, on a webinar Thursday about the future of telehealth.
Panelists on the webinar, which was hosted by Dell Technology, agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the important role technology plays in the future of healthcare. Panelists recognized the importance of remaining flexible as the industry moves forward in shifting policy to empower patients from home.
Telemedicine was recognized as a necessity in King County, Washington — the original epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S. — within a few days of the first case discovered on February 27, noted King County CIO Tanya Hannah.
Within three days, the number of infected individuals had doubled and there had been 10 deaths. The county had to quickly execute plans to move patients into isolation, recalled Hannah.
Chris Veal, Deputy CIO at the Florida Department of Health, reported a drastic increase in telehealth usage. Prior to the pandemic, only 17 departments utilized technology to reach patients, he said, and now telemedicine usage is up to 90% of counties.
While the adoption of telehealth has been widespread, it has come with its own unique challenges. In King County, where more than 100 languages are spoken, one challenge was virtually handling language barriers to provide communities with the information that they need.
Relating to digital equity, Hannah noted a lack of digital literacy and access to devices have been another major struggle.
“We’ve had to go out to schools to bring Wi-Fi to places and increase the Wi-Fi at hospitals to help serve communities,” Hannah said.
King County has undergone efforts to send resources, such as tablets and healthcare vans, to communities to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining necessary care. The county also prioritizes broadband connectivity with federal funding.
The strain COVID-19 has put on the healthcare sector has revealed underlying issues preventing the universal accessibility of telehealth. Moving forward, panelists offered advice on what could improve the experience of both healthcare officials and patients.
Copenhaver called for more states to implement telehealth parity laws, which ensure that virtual visits are covered by insurance the same way physical visits are. As it stands, only 29 states have parity laws in place.
For improved business operations, panelists called for new collaborative sites, specifically suited for the needs of healthcare officials.
To reduce the risk and spread of coronavirus, panelists called for increased use of robotics and artificial intelligence. Several robotic solutions are currently being deployed globally to minimize the requirement for humans to do this work.
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