The Covid-19 pandemic created the perfect test lab for telemedicine.
The closure of clinics and hospitals during the early days of the lockdown, and the subsequent guidelines to avoid venturing out as much as possible, forced a massive shift to video consults, providing a crash course on how they work—and what can go wrong. Now, as doctors resume in-person visits, virtual care is poised to play a permanent role, as evidence shows that not only is it highly convenient, but it often works just as well, and sometimes better, for an unexpected range of care.
“We’ve learned so much about the many different things doctors can do to connect with patients, in ways they never did before, that it will be hard to turn back the clock,” says digital health consultant Daniel Z. Sands, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a primary-care doctor at its affiliate Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
By some estimates, 20% to 25% of all care in the future could be delivered remotely. At Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, Calif., even as practices have resumed in-person appointments, 30% to 40% of all visits are still virtual. About a third of new-patient visits are using telemedicine, and close to 75% of patients who completed a video visit report that they are very likely or extremely likely to choose a video consult over an in-person visit, according to Chief Medical Information Officer Christopher Sharp.
“It’s not surprising that this was better than nothing, but what is surprising is how highly virtual care is valued by our patients,” Dr. Sharp says.