Top 10 telehealth stories of 2020

The COVID-19 crisis prompted an enormous uptick in virtual care use from patients and providers – but it has also raised a number of questions about telehealth's security, accessibility and longevity.
By Kat Jercich
09:14 AM
A patient speaks with a doctor via laptop

There's no question that the COVID-19 crisis ignited unprecedented patient interest in telehealth. But along with the skyrocketing appointment rates and glowing reports about patient and provider satisfaction came concerns about security, accessibility and longevity.

Many of those questions are still unanswered as we turn the corner into 2021. But to gain a sense of the landscape going forward, here's a refresher of Healthcare IT News' top 10 telehealth stories from 2020:  

Telemedicine during COVID-19: Benefits, limitations, burdens, adaptation. As the pandemic began to spread across the country in March, no one was sure exactly what virtual care would, or could, look like. Industry leaders offered an early glimpse into the ways they were using telemedicine in their own systems – and vendors noted how their technology could be used to bridge the gap between clinicians and patients.  

A guide to telehealth vendors in the age of COVID-19. Companies – many of which had been in the virtual care space for years – jumped at the chance to demonstrate their products' usefulness in these unprecedented times. Some even gave away their services for free. This guide, routinely updated with additional vendors, offered a snapshot of the wide variety of telemedicine tools available.  

A guide to connected health device and remote patient monitoring vendors. As hospitals became stretched increasingly thin, many began to rely on remote patient monitoring to treat patients without having to come into direct contact with them. Connected health devices run the gamut from wearable heart monitors to Bluetooth-enabled scales to Fitbits. They provide health measures of patients and transmit them back to providers – or in some cases are reported back to providers – to facilitate healthcare decisions from afar. As with the guide to telehealth vendors, this piece has been updated regularly as more options become available.  

COVID-19: Malaysia’s pandemic approaches and its impact on telehealth. COVID-19 is a global pandemic that has necessitated a global response, and our readers enjoyed getting a look at the ways countries around the world have used virtual care to respond to clinicians' and patients' needs.   

Epic launches new telehealth service with Twilio. Appearing to read the writing on the wall about the virtual care boom, the electronic health record giant teamed up with Twilio in May, enabling healthcare professionals to launch video visits while updating clinical documentation and reviewing patients' histories in the workflow.  

Congress waives telehealth restrictions for coronavirus screening. Legislators included a provision in their March COVID-19 supplemental funding package waiving some restrictions for Medicare telehealth coverage. This would prove to be among many virtual care regulations relaxed in the face of COVID-19 – with the future of these regulations still an open question in December.  

Trump administration expands Medicare telehealth benefits for COVID-19 fight. The Trump administration was generally supportive of telemedicine, with the president issuing several executive orders emphasizing the importance of expanding virtual care for rural patients. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in March that it would temporarily pay clinicians for telehealth services nationwide to help stem the spread of COVID-19.  

Telehealth set for 'tsunami of growth,' says Frost & Sullivan. I know I said up top that we've seen an astronomical increase in telehealth use this year. But researchers in May predicted it wouldn't stop in 2021: Frost & Sullivan forecast a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025. That's a whopping five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.  

Telehealth helps one hospital reduce ER overflow hours from 1,700 to 148. Features Editor Bill Siwicki has written dozens of case studies taking a look at how health systems have used telemedicine to streamline their patient care. Although many of these stories highlighted the change in telehealth practices post-pandemic, some – like this one, published in December 2019 – demonstrate that telemedicine had been useful even before it was advisable to avoid unnecessary in-person contact.  

What do CIOs want to see from telehealth apps? More than a dozen weigh in. Months into the pandemic, many healthcare leaders have gotten the chance to take a breath and evaluate what they'd like to see from virtual care technology in their own systems. Seamless workflow integration, better patient engagement, artificial intelligence utilization and "multidisciplinary group chat" – the sky's the limit when it comes to potential telemedicine innovations.

Taking Stock of Progress and Looking Ahead

This December, we look back at a challenging year – and forward to what we hope is a better, stronger, more connected and resilient healthcare ecosystem.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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