By Sean Kinney
As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic strains health care infrastructure the world over, some physicians and institutions are moving to telehealth models in an effort to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Telehealth has been a long-gestating topic in the telecom industry given its reliance on broadband networks and is the subject of US$200 million in federal funding through the recently-passed CARES Act. But, after COVID-19 passes, will telehealth (and the financial support required to maintain it) persist?
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is tasked with handing out the US$200 million to applications and began that process this week, providing US$3.23 million to six health care institutions, including facilities in hard hit areas like New York, Ohio and Louisiana.
“Telehealth has emerged as a critical service for health care providers and patients alike during the coronvirus pandemic,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “It promotes social distancing, protects the safety of health care professionals and patients, and frees up space in health care facilities for those who now need it most…Going forward, we will continue processing funding requests as quickly as we can in order to promote worthy telehealth projects across the country during this national emergency.”
Grady Memorial Hospital Atlanta got more than US$727,000 for remote patient interactions. In Peekskill, New York, Hudson River HealthCare Inc. received more than US$750,000 to use telehealth to better serve “low-income, uninsured, and/or underinsured patients.” Sina Health System in New York City is spending US$312,000 in federal dollars to buy necessary devices for “geriatric and palliative patients who are at high risk for COVID-19.”
But will COVID-19 prompt durable use of telehealth solutions? Outside of a viral pandemic situation, telehealth can be used to help hospitals better manage staff resources, extend health care and specialization into rural or otherwise underserved communities, and even drive cost efficiencies associated with the use of medical supplies and real estate.
In an interview with RCR Wireless News, a Jackson, Mississippi-based physician described how telehealth is being used presently and looks ahead at its staying power.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a dramatic increase in use of telehealth modalities in our department, primarily through use of audiovisual teleconferencing to conduct followup clinic visits,” according to Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology Fellow at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Brandon W. Lennep.
Lennep continued: “Over the past several weeks my division has gone from telehealth visits being relatively rare to now being the norm. I suspect that when our current pandemic eventually subsides, there will be a significant portion of patients who will continue to prefer the convenience of the telehealth experience – particularly those who live in rural areas and travel long distances to access healthcare facilities.” https://www.rcrwireless.com