Telehealth became a popular way for physicians to continue seeing and treating patients when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but there are concerns that the end of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency will impede patients’ access to this vital mode of care.
Nearly 70% of physicians surveyed by the AMA want to continue offering telehealth services after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. That is one reason why the AMA House of Delegates adopted new policy in June to educate policymakers about the value of telehealth and teach patients best practices to access and maximize the technology's impact.
"We are seeking policymakers to take those learnings that we learned from telehealth, which includes increased remote access [and] expanded access," said AMA Trustee Alexander Ding, MD. "We've seen increased patient satisfaction, all while maintaining quality and safety of care."
Congress passed legislation that extended pandemic-related telehealth coverage through 2024, "ensuring that patients can continue to receive remote care regardless of where they live," Dr. Ding said, but he noted that is not sufficient.
Not only is the AMA working to make those changes permanent, but it is also seeking public resources to help aid patients across the American population, particularly people who face greater challenges accessing and using technologies.
Supporting telehealth is an essential component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.
Telehealth is critical to the future of health care, which is why the AMA continues to lead the charge to aggressively expand telehealth policy, research and resources to ensure physician practice sustainability and fair payment.
For example, Dr. Ding wants to see greater access to broadband or subsidized internet access for underserved areas, particularly areas with physician shortages. He also wants to see resources that help fund and create digital literacy efforts to support older adult patients, patients with disabilities, complex conditions or from historically marginalized populations that have been underserved by limited access to health care.
That technical support, which is of paramount importance, is not a service Dr. Ding wants physicians focused on.
"We see doctor's offices spend a great deal of resources and time to help with the technical support aspects of telehealth access," he said. That should change, Dr. Ding said.
"We're seeking additional resources to help those challenged with digital literacy get additional help and support because accessing telehealth remains an important means of access to care."
In addition to policy changes, the AMA is focused on providing physicians with as much information as possible to make telehealth work for them and their practices.
For example, the AMA has created the Digital Health Implementation Playbook series, which includes step-by-step guides, best practices, and key learnings about incorporating digital health services based on insights from across the medical community. Topics range from remote-patient monitoring and clinical education to understanding patient access and the state of health-at-home models.
In addition, the AMA Future of Health Immersion Program helps physicians, practices and health systems optimize and sustain telehealth and digital care modalities at their organizations by addressing the challenges of access, quality, outcomes, affordability and equity for all as new digital technologies are being used to provide care.
"Our vision really is that physicians have the tools, the resources and the support to seamlessly integrate telehealth into their practices without financial risk or penalty," Dr. Ding said, "and that patients have the opportunity to access telehealth services from the comfort and privacy of their homes, wherever they might live."
“AMA Update” is your source for physician-focused news. Hear from physicians and other experts on trending public health concerns, practice issues and more—because who’s doing the talking matters. Catch every episode by subscribing to the AMA’s YouTube channel or listen to all AMA podcasts at ama-assn.org/podcasts.