During the opening keynote of the 2020 American Telemedicine Association conference, ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson pointed to the transformative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on telehealth.
“This health emergency has launched telehealth” to new heights, Johnson said.
Given the social distancing measures that necessitated a limitation on in-person care, “consumers realized telehealth wasn’t just a matter of convenience: It can be a matter of life and death,” Johnson continued.
The fact that ATA2020 could be moved to a virtual format, Johnson noted, speaks to the reality that “technology can be used to reimagine experiences.”
In response to the pandemic, there’s been a rise in the accessibility and use of both asynchronous and synchronous care, as well as in remote-monitoring technologies, said Johnson, who noted that mental telehealthcare is particularly useful, especially for the many Americans “who have felt the mental toll of this period.”
Overall, Johnson said, “We’ve seen an incredible response by our members on the front lines.”
However, she added, telehealth must be leveraged to address the inequities in U.S. society that the coronavirus pandemic has made even clearer.
For example, Johnson noted that in her home state of Illinois, Black residents accounted for about 40% of coronavirus deaths as of mid-April – despite making up 15% of the population.
“In a country like this, this is wrong and it’s inexcusable,” she said. Others, including Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., have said that any telehealth advancements must include the needs of underserved people.
Going forward, ATA has launched a campaign on both the federal and state level to make many of the temporary telehealth expansion changes permanent.
Johnson said the organization was heartened by signals this past week from members of the Senate HELP Committee in favor of enshrining the originating site rule and the expansion of Medicare- and Medicaid-reimbursable telehealth services.
But that won’t be enough, said Johnson.
“We need to demonstrate that we’ve won the hearts and minds of clinicians and consumers,” she explained. “With research and stories, we need to assure the world that telehealth is health.”
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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