Writer: Liz Palmer
2 min read February 2022 — Emergency measures were taken in 2020 to ensure that those who needed to seek out healthcare could do so without the risk of spreading COVID-19, primarily by way of telehealth. Two years later, experts have begun making connections between telehealth and alleviating societal issues as its use becomes more mainstream and services continue to expand and diversify.
Disparities between demographics that bar access to quality, affordable care has been a long-standing conversation among government officials, healthcare professionals and patients. As it advances, telehealth has started addressing these issues. Penn Medicine studied the likelihood of completing a follow-up visit by racial demographic. They found that the uptick in telehealth visits increased the completion rates in Black patients, bringing the likelihood of follow-up visits to be nearly equal between Black and white patients. Before telehealth became widely available, there was a deeper gap.
Researchers on the project are eager to continue exploring the societal effects of telemedicine becoming standard practice. “While there are evolving issues around quality, payment, and regulatory policy, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that telemedicine was and can continue to be a vital access point for many people,” lead author Eric Bressman, MD said. “If it can promote access and even ameliorate disparities, then it is worth continuing to invest in.”
Another studyopens PDF file published in December 2021 found an increasing possibility that “telehealth, and telemedicine in particular, have great potential to reduce problems of access to care for disadvantaged and underserved groups.”
CEO of Shepherd Center Sarah Morrison spoke with Focus: last year about prioritizing telehealth programming. “Our leadership team initiated our telemedicine, telepsychology and telerehabilitation programs in three short weeks,” she said. “This allowed patients to access our specialized care even if they could not physically come to Shepherd Center.”
Last year, Jason Madsen, CEO of Ascend Medical, told Focus: that telehealth is already expanding to offer a wide range of care and will continue to develop even as healthcare facilities become able to offer services in-person. “It will be leveraged everywhere in healthcare, across the whole continuum and even in specialties,” he said. “Telemedicine is here to stay in primary care and urgent care.”
The Georgia Telehealth Act confirmed this in July 2021, ensuring that telehealth will be around until further notice by amending the emergency orders issued in 2020. Many of the temporary allowances were made permanent to ensure that telehealth remains a core avenue to obtaining healthcare in Georgia. Medicaid users are still able to utilize the service and the platforms will be improved to allow HIPAA-compliant “services to be provided via telephone, webcam or other a/v technology, and video cell phones (such as FaceTime or Skype apps).” As telehealth transitions to a more permanent position in healthcare, more data will continue to be made available on the long-standing effects it has for patients in Georgia.