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Access to Telehealth Removes Barriers to Care for All

Ann Mond Johnson

CEO, The American Telemedicine Association

The pandemic has taught us valuable lessons, especially regarding the quality and availability of telehealth services.

Practically overnight, “telehealth” became a household word, offering a vital lifeline for patients and healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for those in rural and underserved communities. Now, there can be no turning back.

Millions of Americans liked the telehealth care they received, most for the first time. Since the outset of the pandemic, telehealth usage has increased three-fold, from 14 percent in October 2019 to 43 percent as of September 2020, according to a recent Gallup survey. This research also revealed that 50 percent of Americans say they are very or somewhat likely to use telehealth in the coming year, whether or not they’ve experienced telehealth thus far.

What have we learned in the past eight months?

  • Telehealth is healthcare. By creating a hybrid care delivery system — including in-person and virtual care options — we will create a world where all people receive safe, effective, and appropriate care when and where they need it.    
  • While telehealth did not cause the inequities in our healthcare system, many of which have been exposed by COVID-19, it can certainly play a big part in the solution. As a bipartisan priority, we cannot increase access to care without including telehealth as an option. 
  • Telehealth is helping Americans overcome barriers to seeking care. According to Gallup, fear of contracting COVID-19 is the top reason people were interested in telehealth, with 74 percent likely to use telehealth in the next year. Other barriers driving people to try telehealth include challenges with transportation and work schedules, childcare or other family responsibilities, and the quality of available care.

However, if policymakers in Washington and in state capitals across the country do not act swiftly to permanently remove regulatory hurdles that were waived during the pandemic, access to telehealth will fall off a cliff. 

As we move on from the 2020 presidential election, now is the time for policymakers to take action to ensure Americans continue to have access to virtual care when and where they need it, particularly to help solve for health disparities among rural and underserved communities.

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