Telemedicine promised to make health care more accessible without the need to wait at doctor’s offices. However, up until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, few people used such services. Now services are being overloaded and waits have increased to hours. Telehealth app Amwell, which partners with health systems across the country, is quickly scaling up its technology infrastructure to meet the rapidly increasing demand.
In a time when entire cities, states, and countries are under lockdown, telemedicine is providing a good solution. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization are advocating for telemedicine to monitor patients and reduce risk of virus spread. The federal government has taken significant steps to expand telemedicine services to Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
And telemedicine companies are evolving, too. Some plan to release at-home COVID-19 testing kits that can be used with their remote consultations. Others are offering free coronavirus risk assessments and directing high-risk patients toward a video or phone consultation with a physician.
Now, stakeholders and patients alike are trying to find telemedicine options, but they’re sometimes finding server overloads and long wait times. Amwell said its app usage increased by 158% since January. “Any technology infrastructure experiencing such a large increase in demand would experience impact,” said Holly Spring, Amwell vice-president of corporate communications.
The COVID-19 epidemic is on track to be a tipping point for telemedicine in the United States. “Although certain legal, regulatory, and reimbursement challenges remain, the COVID-19 outbreak may be the right impetus for lawmakers and regulatory agencies to promulgate further measures that facilitate more widespread adoption of telemedicine,” read a recent paper from the American Journal of Managed Care.
It might be the case that telemedicine is experiencing a bubble which will burst after the COVID-19 outbreak is over. But it’s only a matter of time before another global health crisis happens, so telemedicine should become an integral part of the health care system.
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