Q&A: How can telehealth help lower risks during a public health crisis?

Virtual care delivered through a computer, phone, or tablet can be a helpful tool in controlling infectious diseases. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has expanded telehealth coverage for Medicare recipients, and the Department of Health and Human Services is also permitting medical professionals to temporarily practice virtual care across state lines to help address COVID-19-related emergency needs.

American Well, now known as Amwell, is seeing a substantial increase in patient traffic to its telehealth application. Dr. Peter Antall, chief medical officer at Amwell, recently shared some insights on how virtual care can help combat a public health crisis and what health systems need to know if they are to quickly and efficiently bring telehealth technology to their patients.

“Telehealth is a powerful tool for enhancing health care, especially in a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Antall said.

Telehealth has many applications in the current crisis. First, Dr. Antall said, it allows safe evaluation of the “worried well,” people who may have cold or flu symptoms but don’t have COVID-19, and keeps them from being exposed to the virus as they might be if they used in-person medical consultation. It also supports the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, or other pre-existing conditions to receive regular care at home. Finally, telehealth can scale rapidly and increase the reach and impact of clinicians, and it can bring medical resources to the hardest-hit areas.

Many hospitals and health systems that didn’t previously have telehealth programs are realizing that they need one now, and Dr. Antall said the best first step is to work with a reputable and experienced telehealth company. Because of the collaboration between American Well and electronic health record platform Cerner, more than a quarter of the nation’s hospitals are able to swiftly implement telehealth technology and integrate it into a patient’s records, along with the necessary workflows and data flows.

The bottom line, according to Dr. Antall, is that telehealth is a powerful tool for enhancing health care delivery, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With common goals, new strategies, and one of the strongest health care systems in the world, we’ll come out stronger on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Antall said. “And we’ll have learned some new ways to help deliver health care—preparing us to better serve our communities in the future.”

Read the full interview here.