The first step to establishing telehealth’s permanence in the future is to
overcome resistance on policy changes. This isn’t a new challenge—and
despite recent progress made in telehealth adoption, it is still a large hurdle.
There are three major reasons for this resistance. First, for many
alternative care delivery methods like telehealth, there have not been
good estimates of cost, leaving open the possibility that MedPAC,
CMS, and Congress may fall back on pre-pandemic perspectives on
telehealth. According to the minutes from MedPAC meetings at the
end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, the costs of telehealth visits are
estimations, with words like “should” and “probably” modifying dollar
amounts. There aren’t many sources reflecting the true cost of providing
care and the associated downstream costs.
Concrete data outlining costs would help dispel the belief that telehealth
is only additive to care, serving as an “extra” that doesn’t replace any
points on the care continuum. The theory that using digital tools will still
require in-person care could be debunked with data around telehealth
visit costs. Most telehealth applications are designed specifically to
avoid duplicative care. However, the inaccurate view of telehealth as
an “extra” is still entrenched among policymakers, payers, clinicians
As the industry tries to move forward, telehealth starts from a
frustrating, and unfortunately familiar place: digital innovation and the
opportunities to apply it to health care will require changes to legislation,
regulation, and reimbursement. CMS and state Medicaid programs have
made some progress, but it’s not yet transformational.