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Telehealth Market Has Expanded Exponentially in Response to COVID-19, Say Connected Health Panelists

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Photo of Victoria Ames by Connected Health

September 3, 2020 — COVID-19 has disrupted the entire healthcare ecosystem and marketplace, and consumers and providers alike are changing their attitudes towards telehealth in response.

According to panelists on two Tuesday webinars, which were both part of the week-long Connected Health Summit sponsored by Parks Associates, the crisis has exposed just how much work remains to be done to integrate digital health into the fabric of healthcare access and delivery.

“The digital and connectivity foundations laid over the last decade have been put to the test,” said Tori Ames, manager of the center for telehealth at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, detailing the stress that many healthcare providers were put under at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Many of us had to work around the clock to meet patient’s needs,” said Ames, saying the pediatric hospital’s telehealth team remained the same size, as telehealth visits jumped from 5,000 to 30,000 sessions per month.

The pandemic rendered telehealth a necessity, which brought about the rapid development of software and technology. Ames’ team implemented over 60 new telehealth programs and onboarded over 1,000 telehealth accounts for providers, in just a few short weeks.

Prior to the pandemic, licensure limitations and reimbursement barriers restricted the growth of the telehealth market. As insurance companies have removed barriers to telehealth services, the market has grown exponentially.

“Tools have expanded and digital platforms have improved,” said Ames, noting this includes developments in symptom checkers, remote patient monitoring, solutions for seniors, and online fitness and wellness platforms.

As the market expands, Ames said that individuals can expect telehealth to trend towards consumerism and advanced interoperability.

Today, 35 percent of households own at least one telehealth device or product and between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020, intention to purchase a smart watch rose from 13 to 20 percent of U.S. households with broadband access.

A slew of symptom checkers have risen to compete in the marketplace, including Tyto Care, founded by Dedi Gilad, which enables remote physical exams, checking for COVID-19 symptoms, anytime and anywhere.

There have also been notable developments in digital health monitoring products. For example, Greg Lillegard, chief operating officer of A&D Medical, created a blood pressure monitoring device, which detects abnormal heart rhythms.

When asked how to improve telehealth technology moving forward, Ames answered that “it is crucial to assess the workflow, processes, and technology that were implemented during the rapid scaling period.”

Ames noted that questions remain about how massive amounts of potentially useful data, generated by telehealth, can be better implemented.

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Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Has Benefits, But Also Challenges That Must Be Rectified: Experts

The technology needs to be examined to ensure it doesn’t create inequities in healthcare, panel hears.

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Screenshot of the Atlantic event in late June

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2022 – While the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare has been lauded by some, experts said at an Atlantic event late last month they are concerned that inaccurate data can also hamper progress in the field.

Artificial intelligence has been used widely across the medical field to analyze relationships between medical providers and patients to improve equality of care, including providing patient risk identification, diagnostics, drug discovery and development, transcribing medical documents, and remotely treating patients.

Carol Horowitz, founder of the Mt. Sinai Institute of Health and Equity Research, argued that while AI plays a substantial role in diagnosing health problems at earlier stages, diagnosing patients more quickly, providing second opinions in diagnoses, enhancing scheduling abilities, stimulating hospital workflow, and finding drug availability for a patient as in dermatology, therapeutics, or population health, it’s not a golden ticket.

She reasoned that it “can reflect and really exaggerate inequities in our system,” negatively affecting healthcare equity among patients.

She stated that AI tools have led to inaccurate measurements in data that have proved harmful to individuals’ health. Horowitz shared the example of faulty AI technology during March 2020 meant to allow individuals to self-monitor their own oxygen levels as a precautionary method to the COVID-19 pandemic but led to inaccurate pulse readings for those with darker skin, and inaccurate data gathering, resulting in delayed treatment for many in need.

Michael Crawford, associate dean for strategy of outreach and innovation at Howard University, added that if these certain mismeasurements and flaws in the technology are not addressed, “AI could increase disparities in health care.”

Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said when it comes to assessing AI technology innovation for the future, there are both cost and benefits, but we must find “where can we move forward in ways that don’t harm human society but that maximize human benefits.”

As we grapple with how to implement this technology, “we must do science and technology policy that always has equity at the center” for future innovation, said Nelson.

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States Lagging on Bills to Implement 988 Suicide Hotline Mandate as Deadline Approaches

As of June 7, 20 states have passed legislation to implement the 988 suicide hotline mandate, according to FCC data.

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Screenshot from the FCBA event on June 8

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2022 – Only 20 out of the 35 states that have introduced legislation for a new suicide hotline have made the legislation law as of June 7, according to information from the Federal Communications Commission, as the July 16 implementation deadline nears.

States are required to implement the infrastructure and the funding for a 988 number that will go to the National Suicide Hotline, but only four states have passed bills to finance it, Emily Caditz, attorney advisor of the Wireline Competition Bureau under the FCC, said at a Federal Communication Bar Association event last week. Those states – Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington – fund the implementation from fees on cellphone lines.

James Wright, chief of crisis center operations at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, suggested that “key partnerships between state and local governments” will be necessary to help states meet this deadline.

Laura Evans, director of national and state policy at Vibrant Emotional Health, said this funding will “make sure we have robust capacity for the anticipated 9-12 million contacts we expect to come in that first year.”

The commission ordered the adoption of the nationwide line nearly two years ago, on July 16, 2020.

According to the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, “988 is designated as the universal telephone number within the United States for the purpose of the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system operated through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”

“America’s suicide rate is at its highest since World War II,” said former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at an FCC event in December of 2019. “A simple three-digit code for a suicide hotline can reduce the mental stigma surrounding mental health and ultimately save lives.

Caditz said the implementation of text messaging “is especially popular with groups that are at heightened risk of suicide or mental health crises, including teenagers and young adults and individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or speech disabled.”

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