After this pandemic experience is finally over, each one of us will have a story to tell. As a collective society, and as individuals, we have all witnessed how a singular, destructive force changed our world forever—in good ways and in bad.
Professionally, I witnessed how Covid-19 will impact (and help solve) some of our nation’s pre-pandemic health care issues.
Back in mid-March, when we were on the fringes of understanding just how this virus would impact our health and our economy, I thought of my healthcare clients. I thought of how they would likely be stymied and overwhelmed by what was about to befall their industry. But a few conference calls later, I quickly saw how a combination of technology and perseverance would overcome the challenge ahead. The types of clients I have in the healthcare field spans the category: from family-owned, in-home therapy providers to large-scale hospital systems. They have all been acutely impacted by Covid-19. As the pandemic raged on and the realities of stalled services intensified, each one of my clients turned to telehealth and telemedicine in one way or another.
In particular, the therapy providers turned to telehealth quickly in order to continue care for their patients. By patients, I don’t mean someone who has a sore calf looking for pain relief. I’m referring to children with severe mental and physical disabilities who rely on therapy to strengthen their muscles so that they may perform basic tasks, like swallowing food or waving hello.
But, a new obstacle prevented providers from serving these at-risk patients: safety concerns. While their patients needed care, providers were concerned about entering their homes, both for the patient’s safety and for their own. So, telehealth seemed like the perfect option.
I worked with the Governor’s office, Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), health plans, and the provider community to create the waivers and regulatory flexibilities necessary to provide care via telehealth services. It was a team effort, and I’m impressed with the commitment of all individuals and groups involved!
The healthcare system in the United Stated can be compared to the Queen Mary. It was a creaky ship whose course could only be changed by decades of planning. But that course was slow to change and adopt new telehealth and telemedicine capabilities. Now the Queen Mary has been turned on a dime stamped by Covid-19. Luckily, we have many tools that will help us navigate a new course—one of them being telehealth.
The benefits of telehealth far outweigh the shortfalls. Here are a few to consider:
- Telehealth improves care in rural communities, which often have problems with access to specialists.
- Telehealth can help drive down the cost of care by alleviating emergency room wait times, the need for large facilities, and reducing time off from work for patients.
- Telehealth follows the same privacy guidelines as traditional, in-person office visits.
- Telehealth reduces exposure to additional contagions in wait rooms.
We’ve widely adopted technology in every other aspect of our lives, why not for the biggest issue in our country: more-affordable access to healthcare? It wasn’t necessarily a political force that finally turned the Queen Mary, it was a biological one. As a result, the system on the other side of this thing will be nimble, more flexible and accessible, all while reducing costs.
Next hurdle? Closing the broadband gap: As we have seen in the educational field, access to broadband and wifi are obstacles to bringing continuity of life in a lot of communities. In order for telehealth to be widely and completely impactful, the broadband gap must be closed.