Telemedicine's role after the COVID-19 pandemic: 3 insights  


The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the U.S. healthcare system, igniting fundamental changes to telemedicine that are likely to remain once the pandemic ends, according to a recent viewpoint article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

Article authors David Cutler, PhD, Sayeh Nikpay, PhD, and Robert Huckman, PhD, argued that governmental and policy changes made during the pandemic, including social distancing regulations, new policies for telemedicine payment expansion, and increased ability of physicians and nurses to practice across state lines, will affect the aftermath of the pandemic. 

"The rapid growth of telemedicine and the broadening of clinician license raise the question of what becomes of these new approaches to treatment once the immediate COVID-19 crisis has passed," the authors wrote. "At this point, most of the easing of regulation has been temporary. What is not clear is whether, when, and to what extent these regulations will be re-established." 

Three insights: 

1. Telemedicine has been helpful to serve patients needing urgent care during the pandemic, so it may also be beneficial as healthcare systems return to serving the wave of elective appointments that are backlogged. 

2. Virtual care has helped older patients and chronically ill patients limit their exposure to the novel coronavirus during the pandemic, so it can continue helping protect vulnerable patients from other potential exposures to infections. 

3. Health systems have been able to rapidly scale telemedicine during the pandemic; Cleveland Clinic reported being on track to complete more than 60,000 telemedicine visits for the month of March, compared to its prior average of around 3,400 visits per month. 

Dr. Cutler is an applied economics professor at Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University; Dr. Nikpay is a health policy assistant professor at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University; and Dr. Huckman is chair of technology and operations management at Harvard University. 


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