The Important Role of Telemedicine in the Future of Health Care


Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining Crain’s Health Pulse and several leading health care executives to discuss how telemedicine is transforming health care, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies show those adopting or intending to adopt telemedicine have nearly doubled from 27% to 51% this year alone. And many consumers (40%) using telemedicine now intend to do so after the pandemic.

With the adoption of telemedicine accelerating and expanding, we talked about how this technology will change the way we manage our own health, access health care information and connect with providers and other resources in the medical community.

Here are my top three takeaways from the conversation and how I believe telemedicine will impact the future of health care delivery:

·        Telemedicine will continue to be a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, a more accepted care option moving forward, including for mental health and wellbeing services. Patients need and deserve access to virtual health care that supports their total health—physical, emotional and spiritual. According to our 2020 Path to Better Health Study, consumers are especially interested in receiving mental health support virtually, with 40% indicating they would be very likely to do so if available to them. In support of this, Aetna offers programs that cover outpatient psychiatric and therapy treatment telehealth solutions as well as personalized programs that help improve health for people with unaddressed behavioral health or substance use disorders. During COVID-19, Aetna also waived member cost sharing for any covered telemedicine visits—regardless of diagnosis. As a result, we’re helping patients receive holistic health support remotely, on their terms.

·        In-person support and telehealth will be complementary ways of accessing health care and should be integrated seamlessly into the patient journey. Enhancing both avenues of care will be important for meeting consumer expectations for convenient, simple and on-demand health care, provided how, when and where they need it. CVS Health and Aetna are continuing to expand and strengthen delivery channels, including virtual and remote monitoring, home health, and HealthHUB and retail clinic services. For example, our HealthHUB locations are ensuring high-quality, connected care that brings together a virtual and brick-and-mortar patient experience. People have access to a store-based care team of clinical and non-clinical experts, chronic disease treatment and screenings, virtual health visits and much more—all in one location. This interconnected, omni-channel experience is where the future of health care can and should be going.

·        As an industry, we need to consider the ways to make telehealth available to all communities, especially those that don’t have easy access to primary care. One of the biggest benefits to telemedicine is that it enables us to meet patients where they are—but it has become increasingly clear that this access isn’t available to everyone. Despite health appointments now being a phone call away, many households across the country don’t have access to the devices or internet needed to make that call. In response to the current environment, household members may also be sharing that device with work and school moving to digital formats. As a result, health care is deprioritized. This has shone a light on the socioeconomic and racial disparities that exist around access to critical health care services, including telehealth, which we must address to help people achieve better health.

Telemedicine has, and will continue, to rapidly reshape health care as we know it. The COVID-19 pandemic has only further demonstrated the importance of tech-enabled care and has created a unique opportunity to increase its adoption throughout the U.S. health care system. In doing so, I believe we can ensure better care coordination, improve the patient-provider relationship and enhance health care accessibility for those we serve.