The saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” couldn’t be more apropos at the moment. We’re in the throes of a need so massive that it’s demanding the full capacity of business, government and nonprofit sectors to challenge norms and invent solutions that seek to keep our nation safe and our economy afloat at a time of great uncertainty.
Industrial and technological sectors are quickly adapting to keep pace with new service demands. Government is extending lifelines to families and businesses through financial relief and stimulus. Food and blood banks are desperate for continued donations. COVID-19 is shaping up to be the global battle of our lifetime with our biggest vulnerability at its epicenter: our health.
At a time when we must stand together at a distance, our health remains the top priority. The challenge, of course, is access to care at a time when we are encouraged – mandated in a growing number of areas – to stay apart. Before the coronavirus outbreak took hold, telemedicine, often interchanged with telehealth, had been gaining a foothold as consumer preference for healthcare also moved into the home. With a market size projected of $17B by 2025, it might just get its sharpest short-term injection of funding with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposing $200M from the government’s latest stimulus package for a telehealth program to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
What was once heralded as an alternative way to provide clinical services has quickly become a necessary function to continue care delivery at a time when we must quarantine, social distance and shelter in place. The question is, how will this stand to accelerate – or decelerate – acceptance and adoption of remote healthcare after we see signs of the pandemic retreating?
Remote medical services, particularly while many cities across the country remain in a state of emergency, may continue to see an insurgence as rules for physicians credentialing to perform telemedicine are eased and as state government orders mandate coverage of it at the same rate as in-person visits. Likewise, at the federal level, telehealth services are now covered by Medicare to keep older populations at home. All said, a relaxing of red tape and a coming-around of public consent toward telehealth as a viable complement to – if not replacement for – in-person medical care bodes well for the quick capacity building efforts across the country to make “healthcare with no address” ubiquitous with 21st century medicine. Even if the current expansion exposes cracks or vulnerabilities in the system, it gives the medical community a chance to report challenges, cite areas for improvement and learn from its shortfalls.
As we evaluate its effectiveness, there are myriad companies and technology applications poised and mobilized to move the industry forward. Take San Francisco-based GYANT, a virtual assistant for healthcare that offers an AI-driven chat solution that provides support and answers questions for patients throughout their healthcare journey.
GYANT’s COVID-19 Screener and Emergency Response Assistant (SERA) was most recently profiled in FierceHealthcare for powering Blue Shield of California’s digital triage tool being deploying across its network of hospital systems in anticipation of a COVID-19 patient surge. In a Wall Street Journal article, GYANT goes on to discuss how AI investments – particularly those with the potential to advance patient care – are likely to continue to grow in importance as the virus spreads.
The question remains: will the recent mobilization of tech solutions and the convenience of telehealth be enough to sustain it as a viable replacement or complement to our nation’s traditional healthcare approach? Many claim the technology is here but the delivery system is where we still need the breakthroughs. It will also take more than public consent and winning the hearts and minds of providers.
While temporary measures to ease restrictions that have historically slowed adoption of telehealth may potentially return to pre-coronavirus levels, many believe we need flexibility to encourage the continued use of technology and adherence to quality standards to sustain adoption and cement telemedicine’s place in our care delivery system. What’s more, it will take a continued convergence of personalized medicine driven by digital therapeutics and AI-powered devices that enable continuous monitoring, alerting and communication with our doctors.
The COVID-19 crisis is putting telehealth in the spotlight. Like many of us, we’re anxious to see how it stands to influence a new healthcare paradigm once the infection rate slows, physical distancing eases and life begins to resemble what it used to before the pandemic. Telehealth may have been conceived decades ago but now it’s in the test run of its life. And we’re all watching.
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