The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically expedited the growth of telehealth services. While the online service was already being used before the lockdown, patients were hesitant to adopt this practice due to unfamiliarity with the process. However, as the pandemic has forced telehealth to become the new standard of care, both patients and providers have become more comfortable utilizing the service as it will likely become part of a routine doctor visit even after we have entered into the “new normal.”

We sat down (figuratively) with Jim Sheets, MHA Adjunct Instructor and current COO of Specialty Based Care at Intermountain Healthcare, and Kelcie Douglas, MHA 2020 alumna and Intermountain Healthcare Administrative Fellow, for their thoughts on the pandemic’s influence on telehealth and its future.

First, we were interested in learning about these experts’ opinions on the role COVID-19 has played in telehealth’s rapid development. The most significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on telehealth, according to Kelcie, is that “it has helped to expedite the adoption of tools that already existed by taking telehealth from a cool tech nicety to the standard of care overnight.” Jim expresses that “[telehealth] has created credibility and trust in a care medium that was questioned in the past, mostly due to lack of familiarity.”

One question surrounding telehealth utilization has been its ability to expand care access to marginalized populations. Kelcie and Jim agree that telehealth can bring healthcare services to patients, regardless of where they reside. Kelcie describes that many payors charge no copay for patients to access Connect Care, Intermountain Healthcare’s telehealth application, which expands care to those who may not afford it. There seem to be multiple cost advantages, specifically for patients, to using telehealth services. Jim states that “telehealth is a less expensive avenue of care because the technology is less expensive than bricks and mortar. It also increases preventative care, which can reduce downstream complex care for patients.”

Many patients experience some discomfort utilizing telehealth services, mainly if they are not familiar with operating the application used by their provider. “There are many success stories and growth where patients see the value in virtual visits. Good data also supports this. As data is presented to providers and patients of the positive outcomes and use of telehealth, it will continue to be utilized,” Kelcie states. Telehealth also offers benefits that may be lacking from in-person visits. Jim states, “many features of quality [for telehealth] are shorter wait times, faster response times, and easier access.”

As comfortability with using telehealth improves for patients and becomes a convenient resource, telehealth has also taken some stress off of our healthcare systems. Kelcie explains, “we have seen [stress removed from our system] in our pandemic response in COVID (negative-pressure) rooms. We are giving providers access to telehealth to call into rooms where COVID patients have reduced exposure, PPE use, etc. This has taken the stress off both the providers and the system. It also has extended access. Providers are now able to complete visits virtually instead of having to drive down to a clinic in St. George. It saves time, resources, and increases access to care.”

Finally, Kelcie and Jim agree that telehealth is here to stay. In-person visits may increase as the infection rate of COVID-19 declines. Still, Jim expresses that “COVID has demonstrated that telehealth is a must-have for all caregivers to stay connected to their patients.”