Even as the Delta variant upends the country’s “return to normalcy,” some states are dismantling policies that keep telemedicine accessible. The move could undermine care and put patients at risk.
The Telemedicine Reform Success Story
Telemedicine, including doctor visits, consultations and therapeutic sessions conducted remotely by phone or video, saved lives and money during the pandemic. It allowed patients to access personalized treatment while still following social distancing guidelines.
Two reforms were most responsible for telehealth’s stunning 3,000% growth in 2020:
- State licensure waivers, which allowed patients to see doctors, nurses and counselors located and licensed in other states.
- Payment parity, whereby health care providers were reimbursed for virtual consultations at the same rates as in-person appointments.
Adopted as temporary measures, these policies quickly turned telemedicine into an invaluable force-multiplier for patients, providers and the entire health care system.
They also proved successful with patients and health care providers. One survey in April found that more than 70% of telehealth patients were satisfied with their care and hoped to have access to it even after the pandemic ended.
Rollbacks Will Hurt Patients
Despite telemedicine’s success, however, many states are reinstating pre-pandemic restrictions on virtual care. And while many patients may want or need to see their provider in person again, others will suffer from having no choice in the matter.
Some patients will find themselves once again driving hours for out-of-state specialist visits that could easily be conducted online. Other patients may discover that new restrictions mean they must drive into their doctor’s state, pull off the highway, and have a smart-phone visit while parked at the nearest rest stop. Other patients will face anew the challenges of taking time off of work or finding child care so they can attend in-person consultations that could be done virtually.
Letting Telehealth Work
Patients, providers and the health care system as a whole benefited from the expansion of telehealth this past year. Its popularity has grown throughout the pandemic. And with COVID-19’s Delta variant reigniting concerns about exposure and contagion, now is simply not the time to cut off patients from the care options they need and the clinicians they trust.