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Telehealth is part of the future of healthcare because it’s a medical tool, not a technological tool

By Dan Collard, TeamHealth Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through America’s healthcare system, clinicians were forced to adapt – quickly. In addition to treating sick patients and managing emergency department capacity in hot spots surging past capacity, clinicians faced another serious challenge:

How would they make sure non-COVID patients were getting the care they need in the face of crowded hospitals and bans on elective medical visits?

Telehealth became an increasingly important tool. One report found that telehealth visits in October 2020 were up 3,000 percent compared to the previous year. It allowed patients to quickly and conveniently interact with a clinician without visiting an office or hospital, facilitating medical visits that might not have otherwise been possible. But it would be a mistake to say that the move to telehealth was caused by the pandemic. Like many trends across the healthcare industry, telehealth was an emerging trend that was accelerated by the pandemic.

Viewing telehealth through the lens of the pandemic makes it easy to think of telehealth as a technological development. In truth, it’s a medical development, which is why it was part of TeamHealth’s care model well before the pandemic and will be an even bigger part long after COVID-19 is behind us. It has allowed patients to access care they might not otherwise seek, driving better outcomes and more regular contact with their healthcare provider. In settings where it might still be difficult to administer care, telehealth is a lifeline. Seniors and other patients in post-acute facilities might not otherwise have access to critical services like behavioral health care if not for telehealth. Appropriate interactions, better outcomes, and lower costs for both patients and providers make telehealth a pillar of value-based care, which has been a driving force in healthcare before the pandemic that has only picked up speed since.

Recently, I had the privilege to speak on a panel hosted by Kingsley Gate, examining The New World of Telehealth and Telemedicine. Telehealth is a path to care, not just a technology, which means we should treat it as such. That is why I told the panel:

What we call Virtual Care is essentially being delivered by technology organizations via technology platforms. For virtual care to be successful, healthcare providers need to be the ones who jump in to make it actually happen.”

TeamHealth believes that telehealth should be run by healthcare providers rather than technology companies in order to maximize its effectiveness in our care for patients. We believe in building telehealth tools that serve patients and allow our providers to conduct visits as if they were in person. Our telehealth services are built by identifying the desired outcome first: higher quality care for patients. We are already working with a number of our hospital and health system partners to upgrade or install cutting edge telehealth systems. From there, we can refine our platforms and how we use them.

Telehealth will continue to evolve as we further grasp its advantages, find creative ways around its limitations, and pair it with specialties and practices where it can do the most good. The more we use this tool, the more we refine it, which means it’s here for the long haul. We look forward to putting COVID-19 behind us, but we know that telehealth will emerge from the pandemic as a long-lasting trend within healthcare. It’s up to us as providers to optimize that tool so our patients are receiving the best possible care.