With in-person doctor visits under more restrictions than ever before, 2020 has been a challenge unlike any other for health professionals across the country. Virtual visits have become the new norm at many hospitals and the trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future until a vaccine is widely available. As people are forced to adapt to a world that is getting increasingly virtual, innovation and speed of delivery will become more vital.
It is widely accepted that the recent surge in telehealth services triggered by the pandemic marks a turning point in how healthcare will be delivered in the future. The usage of telehealth services will never return to pre-pandemic levels, resulting in the continued evolution of the technology that enables these systems. This need will only be supplemented by complimentary growth in patient monitoring technologies.
It is no secret that the rise of telehealth has just been completely accelerated, and adapting to these changes in the near and long-term will put more strain on healthcare IT networks and the professionals who manage them. The first step for many telehealth delivery networks will likely be to fortify and enhance the systems pulled together during the crisis.
Do these hospitals have the bandwidth to support sustained, increased demand for telehealth services? Will they be able to consistently deliver the quality and availability required to play a more significant role in patient healthcare?
Answering these questions will require a careful evaluation of how the loss of internet or power will have on the patient experience, and the ability of existing infrastructure to meet the growing demands of virtual and telehealth services.
In many cases, dated infrastructure simply won’t be up to the challenge. Needs ranging from infrastructure upgrades to the acquisition of new IT hardware to support the increased bandwidth and higher data volumes resulting from telehealth and other emerging technologies.
One state leading the way is Tennessee, which began laying the groundwork for virtual care in 2015, when the Tennessee General Assembly passed the nation’s first law establishing that patients enjoy the same physician-patient relationship in telemedicine visits as they do in office visits. The law was instrumental in raising the bar on quality, ensuring that virtual care had to be delivered according to the same standard as office-visit care.
Most importantly, the bill ensured the state regulators would treat Tennessee-licensed telemedicine providers the same as all other physicians. The bill would go on to become model legislation for other states across the country. Today, in the midst of a global pandemic, Tennessee’s state and federal lawmakers are continuing to lead the advancement of virtual healthcare.
Governor Bill Lee’s emergency orders relaxed state regulations to make it easier for physicians licensed outside Tennessee to provide telemedicine services to quarantined Tennesseans. And Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Knoxville) introduced legislation in Washington to ensure that Tennesseans who had benefited from such care could continue to see their doctors should Gov. Lee’s executive orders expire.
Thanks to these efforts, Tennessee is on the verge of the greatest transformation in medical care since the development of antibiotics. As consumers tear down the walls to telehealth, policymakers must take care not to build new barriers inadvertently. The practice of medicine, like telemedicine, varies widely across practice settings. We must continue to lay the groundwork that will allow virtual care to flourish so all Tennesseeans and people across the country will benefit from it in 2021 and beyond.