Why virtual care will outlast the pandemic

Millions of people have turned to telehealth amid stay-at-home orders, including many who would otherwise struggle to access health care. Advocates for the technology are now making an all-out push to cement a permanent role for telehealth, warning that a rapid retrenchment could devastate patients while the coronavirus is still spreading.

“Telehealth has rapidly transformed from a technocratic, wonky issue to an essential strategy for keeping people alive,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of the technology’s biggest boosters on the Hill. “We’re going to realize that all the changes we enacted ought to be permanent.”

Since Covid-19 emerged, telehealth visits for Medicare seniors soared from a few thousand per week to just over 1.3 million. Virtual therapy sessions at a prominent telehealth company have more than doubled. Providers said fewer low-income patients missed appointments at safety net clinics across the country — from rural New Mexico to urban parts of Maryland — since they could more easily video chat their doctor without having to arrange transportation or childcare.