‘The world will never be the same’: Healthcare executives say telehealth is here to stay beyond the coronavirus

One benefit of the coronavirus pandemic is the increasing usage of telehealth. The virus has forced an end to many non-urgent medical visits, and doctors are connecting with COVID and non-COVID patients virtually. According to Dr. Roy Schoenberg, CEO of telehealth company Amwell, telehealth has gone from a “gratifying new technology” to something that’s taken on a life of its own.

Business Insider’s Lydia Ramsey talked with Schoenberg and Dr. David Houghton, the system chair of telemedicine and digital health for Louisiana-based Ochsner Health during a webinar conducted on April 30, and both say that telehealth is here to stay.

“Here we are six weeks into the arrival of the pandemic in a big way, really rethinking how health care is going to be built and offered to Americans and essentially to people around the world,” Schoenberg said. As he watched regulatory changes unfold and “a grassroots movement of clinicians in the U.S. transition[ing] the way they do health care,” he knew there was a sea change afoot.

As COVID-19 swept the nation, telehealth companies like Amwell and health systems that use telehealth have seen a tremendous uptake in the number of physicians and patients having virtual appointments.

Ochsner Health, for example, has been using telehealth for years, but before the crisis there were just a couple hundred doctors in the health system using it. Now, Houghton says, there are more than 3,000 Ochsner physicians making more than 3,500 virtual visits each day.

Houghton expects the increase in telemedicine use to continue after the pandemic ends. “If this is the hype cycle, we don’t see it going into any sort of trough,” he said. “We were ready for this, and we’re looking forward to being able to utilize these technologies really for the long term.”

As for regulatory changes, Schoneberg believes some of the regulations that were loosened—for example, the lack of penalties for using non-HIPAA-compliant technology for telehealth visits—to bounce back and be enforced again. He does remain hopeful that Medicare will remain as open to telehealth as it is now.

And medical organizations? “I’m pretty sure that medical boards are going to try to reassert jurisdiction over the care that’s being rendered in their states,” Schoenberg said.

But society has already seen what telehealth can do, and people are on board.

“I think it’s going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle for a lot of the reimbursement things,” Houghton said. “If this was so important during this time, there will be another next time.”

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