The impending “telehealth cliff” threatens to abruptly cut off access to care, especially for underserved and rural populations, and Medicare beneficiaries.
Ann Mond Johnson, Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer, American Telemedicine Association
Joseph C. Kvedar, M.D.
Chair of the Board, American Telemedicine Association
Last year at this time, telehealth became a household word. From March to June of 2020, 30 percent of all outpatient care was delivered via telehealth, in contrast to 0.8 percent in 2019.
The virtual visit became a universally understood concept, and by all accounts, patients loved it: 83 percent reported overall high-quality visits, and over 75 percent said they would continue using telehealth to manage chronic diseases, including hypertension and diabetes.
Today, as telehealth becomes a standard tool in care delivery, healthcare providers are striking an appropriate balance of in-person and virtual care, and we expect telehealth to account for 20-30 percent of care delivery moving forward.
The telehealth cliff
However, there is much uncertainty around the future of telehealth, as temporary policies enacted during the pandemic to allow access to telehealth will immediately end when the federal public health emergency expires, which could be any day now. This is creating chaos and concern for patients and healthcare providers alike, as this “telehealth cliff” threatens to abruptly cut off access to care, especially for underserved and rural populations, and Medicare beneficiaries. One of our biggest priorities must be to ensure passage of federal policies and state laws that support the permanent, widespread adoption of telehealth.
Adding to this urgency is that the challenges our healthcare system faced before COVID are still with us and continue to escalate, including striking healthcare disparities and inequities, an aging and increasingly ill population, and an inadequate supply of providers to meet demand in the same manner we have in the past — face-to-face and one-to-one care. Making telehealth a permanent option will address many of these problems as we’ve witnessed over the past 17 months.
We must make our voices heard. Urge your elected representatives to pave a regulatory path that enables permanent access to telehealth, and tell your employers and insurance providers that you want the option to receive appropriate care via telehealth services. In September, during Telehealth Awareness Week, take the opportunity to join thousands of others to support telehealth as a quality care choice for your families and all Americans.
Many of us have seen the significant contributions telehealth has made in our national response to COVID-19. Now is the time to permanently expand access to these services for the millions of people in the United States who need a safe, effective, and convenient option to access their care.