During the COVID-19 pandemic few subjects in healthcare have gained more attention than the heroics of healthcare workers on the front lines; the overwhelming administrative and financial challenges faced by health systems; and the meteoric rise in the use of telehealth.

Doctors of all stripes turned to telehealth to keep their heads above water. Hospitals and health systems, too, implemented the technology in much the same manner: anything to keep revenue coming in and the lights on like nearly everyone else in the United States.

An April 2020 survey of 20 accountable care organizations (ACOs) raced “to implement telehealth and remote patient monitoring to coordinate care and stay afloat financially during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

“For some companies, that has meant moving telehealth business segments from the sidelines and putting them front and center,” the Los Angeles Business Journal reported in April.

It's no overstatement to suggest that thousands of doctors used virtual consultations to provide care to their patients at the peak of the pandemic economic shutdown. But for many, theirs wasn’t a love affair with the technology.

Nearly 60% of physicians interviewed as part of another survey said they remain leery about the quality of care they can provide remotely. According to Decision Resources Groups' two-part survey of 4,855 practicing U.S. physicians, four out of five physicians used telehealth during the pandemic.

For 20% of physicians that didn’t use the technology, the primary reason for not doing so was the possibility of diminished quality of care.

For others surveyed in June and July who said they had conducted virtual consultations in the past three months, about half (52%) said they would likely continue to do so after COVID-19 mitigation ends.

On Sept. 15, 23 of the nation’s top healthcare experts released a report identifying challenges and opportunities for telehealth post-COVID-19 pandemic.

The Taskforce on Telehealth Policy, convened by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, theAlliance for Connected Care, and the American Telemedicine Association, spent months “building consensus among its members on a comprehensive set of findings and recommendations,” these organizations said in a joint media release.

Taskforce members — representing a swath of health plans, providers, consumer advocates, and health quality experts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors — said the report is a blueprint for how policymakers can harness the expansion of telehealth and create lasting healthcare improvements that prioritize patient safety, quality, and equitable access to care.

"These recommendations were developed through broad consensus and seek to establish telehealth as a permanent modality," said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, in the statement. “We heard loud and clear from a range of stakeholders that virtual care must remain an option for patients and providers after the public health emergency is over. Our recommendations provide guidance on aligning standards, quality, payment, and program integrity to make telehealth available to all, including those in underserved and rural communities and our most vulnerable patient populations.”

The Taskforce on Telehealth Policy posted the full report online for public review. Highlights include:

  • Telehealth is evolving healthcare for the digital age, setting up a modality of care.
  • Telehealth is a good substitute for in-person care without increasing overall costs.
  • Policymakers should lift geographic restrictions and limitations on originating sites, allow telehealth for various types of clinicians and conditions, and acknowledge that telehealth visits generally meet requirements for establishing a clinician/patient relationship.

The task force also recommends lifting restrictions on telehealth across state lines.

Additionally, full enforcement of the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) should resume when the current public health emergency ends.