By JULIA HU
Though it will be impossible to overstate the devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving in its wake, we can also acknowledge that it has pushed humanity to creatively adapt to our new, socially-distanced reality—necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Telehealth is not a new invention, but the necessity of keeping people physically apart, especially those particularly vulnerable to COVID, has suddenly put virtual health care at the center of our delivery system.
Patients and providers quickly pivoted to at-home care as in-person visits were limited for safety, and use of telehealth spiked early in the outbreak. One survey of over 500,000 clinicians showed that by April—only about two weeks after the first stay-at-home orders were issued in the U.S.—14 percent of their usual number of pre-pandemic visits were being conducted via telemedicine. For many, that involved using unfamiliar technology and a big shift in procedures for providers. Congress recognized the need to support providers through this transition and allocated $500 million for waiving restrictions on Medicare telehealth coverage as part of the emergency funding bill that passed in March.