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Telehealth's Long-term Viability Depends on Research

Posted by: Luke on Friday, August 21, 2020

In light of the pandemic, telehealth adoption has surged in orders of magnitude since February. We here at the UMTRC have been advocating for widespread telehealth expansion and mainstreaming the language of telehealth since 2008. Our position here at the UMTRC has always been that increased adoption and utilization of telehealth will increase access to care broadly, yet one thing remains constant in conjunction with the recent explosion in telehealth capacity – the urgent need for readily accessible research. Specifically, AHRQ highlights the need for research in the areas of quality of care, provider competency, disparities in use and access, and efficacy of specific service lines (among others).

 A bit on why these things are important: 

  • Quality of Care. One of the principle barriers to permanent, widespread adoption of telehealth as a viable replacement for certain, in-person modalities of care is a lack of evidence base that specifically addresses the quality of care received at scale. During a pandemic, when some systems have seen their telehealth utilization rates increase by over 1000%, having easy access to comparative, longitudinal, and large-scale studies would greatly assuage the doubts of skeptical providers.
  • Provider Competency. As healthcare providers adjust to telehealth, the need for evaluative metrics emerges as a major gap in the evidence base. Without consistent performance standards to measure, the perception of telehealth as the “Wild West” persists.
  • Disparities in Use and Access. While telehealth use has primarily been examined through the lens of geography, the evidence base could afford to be expanded to include issues of intersectionality and identity in conjunction with other social determinants of health. 
  • Efficacy of Certain Service Lines. Even as staunch telehealth advocates, the UMTRC recognizes that not all modalities will be appropriate for telehealth; conversely, with the current evidence base, it is not exactly clear which modalities are Many premier publications cite that this gap in the literature is a major obstacle for proper evaluation and implementation of telehealth programs at scale. 

All of these areas of the telehealth evidence base must be broadened and deepened in order to inform policy decisions that will lay the groundwork for a post-public-health-emergency world.

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