AJMC® Health IT Issue Highlights Telehealth’s Expansion Due to COVID-19

January 28, 2021

The 10th annual health IT special issue of The American Journal of Managed Care® captures the opportunities and disparities that have emerged after telehealth broke through the barriers that kept it out of reach.

CRANBURY, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--For years, telehealth held promise but always seemed just around the corner. It made sense in theory—if payers and providers could overcome regulatory and reimbursement hurdles that kept it from taking flight. In 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic proved just the disruption that telehealth needed.

Telehealth takes center stage in this health information technology (IT) issue from The American Journal of Managed Care®, which launched the annual special issue a decade ago when financial incentives and requirements in the Affordable Care Act meant health IT would expand. Prior issues have focused on the role of electronic health records and the rise of data in health care decision-making. But as 2020 gives way to 2021, telehealth is the story.

In the face of a pandemic, both CMS and commercial payers let the reimbursement walls come tumbling down, and the consensus is there’s no turning back. “Telehealth has been rapidly adopted as a means to achieve the goal of continuing care provision yet maintaining social distancing and preserving personal protective equipment,” guest editor Daniel M. Walker, Ph.D., MPH, of the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University, writes in an opening letter.

“COVID-19 has cast a bright light on opportunities for health IT to help the delivery system better support patient needs, and the research included in this issue advances the science in three domains that are particularly important and feasible to address to improve patient-centeredness: data analytics, connecting providers across specialties and implementing telehealth,” says Walker.

As Walker notes, the rise of telehealth has created “unintended consequences,” exposing disparities and raising new questions. Among the findings:

  • COVID-19 telehealth expansion offered a short-term opportunity to expand “the fundamental gap in health care underutilization,” Chip A. Bowman, MD, and colleagues argued.
  • Jorge A. Rodriguez, MD, and coauthors found lower use of video vs telephone visits among lower-income, Black and Hispanic, older, and Spanish-speaking patients during COVID-19, driven largely by clinic and practice factors.
  • Even before the pandemic, electronic consults were expanding across the Veterans Health Administration, according to a study covering a seven-year period.

Beyond telehealth, the issue highlights how disparities affect who uses technology. Availability of online medical records does not mean patients will use them, according to authors led by Neha Trivedi, Ph.D., MPH. Patients with less education and lower incomes who had access to records often did not bother. The main reason? They preferred to talk to their provider.

Sachin H. Jain, M.D., MBA, an AJMC® editorial board member who is president and CEO of the SCAN Group and Health Plan, writes in the issue’s Letter From the Editorial Board about an innovative program that could help bridge the technology gap. Citing a Michigan study that suggests a third of older adults may lack the technology skills to access care, Jain writes how SCAN tested a service to offer zero-cost tech support to help members set up email accounts or send photos of foot infections.

“Telehealth and other forms of virtual care are finally here to stay,” Jain writes. “We spent years waiting for these technologies to go mainstream. Now that they have, let’s make sure we meet our patients where they are and support them as they adapt to these new ways of accessing care.”

To read the special issue, click here.

About The American Journal of Managed Care®

The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®) is a multimedia, peer-reviewed, MEDLINE-indexed journal that keeps industry leaders on the forefront of health policy by sharing digital research relevant to industry decision makers. Other brands in the AJMC® family include The American Journal of Accountable Care®, Evidence-Based Oncology and Evidence-Based Diabetes Management. These comprehensive multimedia brands bring together stakeholder views from payers, providers, policymakers and other industry leaders in managed care. AJMC® is a brand of MJH Life Sciences, the largest privately held, independent, full-service medical media company in North America, dedicated to delivering trusted health care news across multiple channels.

Contacts

AJMC® Media Contact
Alexandra Ventura, 609-716-7777
aventura@mjhlifesciences.com