Patients and physicians are navigating a fractured health care arena that spans across brick-and-mortar buildings and the virtual world that they embraced in 2020.

Protecting telehealth

Comprehensive telehealth reform is critical to the future of health care. The AMA is fighting for legislation to permanently remove restrictions on telehealth coverage and payment.

As one AMA physician trustee put it, the state of digital health is comparable to the cartoon characters Fred Flintstone and George Jetson coexisting. That is, there have been tremendous strides in technologies that serve as tools in medicine, but physicians still find themselves having to fax a medical report to another office or perform 4,000 clicks a day, noted Meg Barron, the AMA’s vice president of digital health strategy and innovations.

“We are truly at an inflection point to how we navigate both existing and emerging models of care,” she said during an AMA webinar. “Collaboration is absolutely going to be necessary. … None of this can happen in a vacuum. No one group can address this on its own. The overarching consensus is that we need to continue focusing on fixing the foundational issues—think interoperability, think care fragmentation. We are at risk of only additionally exacerbating [current concerns] if we don’t find a way to better connect the dots in this space.”

During the webinar, the AMA’s Barron and Jared Augenstein, a managing director at Manatt Health, shared key takeaways from their joint report, “Future of Health: Closing the Digital Health Disconnect: A Blueprint for Optimizing Digitally Enabled Care” (PDF). The report draws on the insights of interviews with more than 40 leaders of physician practices, health systems, digital health companies, venture funds, employers and health plans.

The webinar included a panel discussion on what is being done to work toward a health system that more seamlessly joins virtual and in-person care. The voices included an investor in digital health care, as well as a primary care physician and a gastroenterologist who have embraced digital health in caring for their patients. It was followed by a question-and-answer session.

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Join the call to action

In addition to six foundational pillars for fully integrating in person and virtual care models—including recentering care on the patient-physician relationship and creating technologies and policies that reduce fragmentation—the Future of Health report includes calls to action for major health care stakeholders.

Barron invited physicians, health plans, employers, policymakers, health tech companies, and venture capital and private equity firms to get involved and collaborate with the AMA to work toward a better health care system. She asked leaders to participate by:

  • Identifying and showcasing effective case studies and best practices across specialties, practice settings and stakeholders.
  • Jointly developing a common vocabulary for digitally enabled care to help ensure alignment and avoid adding complexity.
  • Sharing opportunities, best practices and learnings for how digitally enabled care can address workforce issues and industrywide burnout through AMA-convened efforts, pilots and organized learning collaboratives.
  • Collaborating to provide education on the approaches, outcomes and impact based on specialty, use case and patient population needs.
  • Committing to the principles released by the AMA In Full Health Learning & Action Community to Advance Equitable Health.
  • Helping ensure that the patient-physician relationship continues to be the “heart and soul” of medicine and supporting physician-led, team-based care.
  • Collaborating on aligned advocacy efforts focused on addressing industry fragmentation, payment reform and advancing digitally enabled care.

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“We need everyone to come to the fold if we are going to help move the needle and help fix some of the foundational issues we know exist and then think through how to optimize digital experiences and blend that with in person care,” Barron said.

To get involved, email the AMA’s digital health team, which will be hosting sessions at events such as the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference in March.

Learn more about the AMA’s digital health leadership through initiatives such as the AMA Physician Innovation Network and the digital health implementation playbook series.

Telehealth is critical to the future of health care, which is why it’s an essential component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians.

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