Coronavirus Shines Spotlight On Telehealth Delivery Problems

As the coronavirus threat has continued to grow, providers are making good use of their investments in telehealth. There have always been benefits to meet patients’ health needs with virtual visit tools, which keep care accessible while freeing up face-to-face resources for those that truly need them, but they’re especially important as infection rates rise.

However, there are still some significant challenges to relying heavily on telehealth services, problems which the COVID-19 outbreak has exposed as pressure mounts to treat those infected by the virus. While providers were already aware of these gaps, they’re paying more attention to them as demand for such services surges.

One interesting set of observations on this subject comes from Dr. Farzad Mostashari, former national coordinator with ONC and founder of Aledade. In a recent tweetstream, he called attention to some substantial challenges Aledade doctors are facing in using these tools.

By way of background, it’s worth noting where the doctors are in dealing with the virus generally. When Aledade recently surveyed roughly 100 primary care practices about their COVID-19 worries recently, respondents’ biggest concern was that they’re struggling to get masks, gowns and eye shields to protect themselves, their staff and their patients.

The study also notes (as have many others) that the U.S. healthcare system is unprepared for the “tidal wave” of patients likely to show up over the next couple of weeks and overwhelm hospitals and medical practices.

Given these concerns, Mostashari notes, Aledade is attempting to switch its practices over to virtual visits, but it’s proving to be a complicated process.

Then there’s a mountain of regulatory issues which haven’t been resolved:

As he correctly points out, ultimately regulators will have to step up and help make telehealth feasible:

In the meantime, as providers and regulatory agencies figure out how to adjust to virtual services, other industry players are working to move the use of telehealth ahead, including private health plans, some of which have begun offer no-cost virtual visits, as well as health systems like LifeBridge Health, whose virtual hospital service is integrated brick-and-mortar hospital operations.

Unfortunately, the reality is that even with the involvement of deep-pocketed healthcare stakeholders, we aren’t yet at a point where the healthcare system can deliver a seamless web of telehealth services.


About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.