By Emma Nitzsche 


The Covid-19 pandemic created a surge in the number of people utilizing telehealth, and as healthcare facilities begin to recover from the pandemic, the demand for online services remains.  


Telehealth is a broad term that refers to using electronic information or telecommunications to provide health care or health education. Patients using telehealth report that it is highly convenient and often works just as well, and sometimes better, for a range of care.


Cleveland Clinic used telemedicine for 37,000 virtual visits in 2019 and 1.2 million visits in 2020. Steven Shook, a neurologist who leads digital healthcare for the Cleveland Clinic, believes that 20% of the clinic visits in 2021 will be virtual, even though it is fully open for in-person care.


At Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California, approximately 40% of appointments are still virtual, even after in-person visits resumed. 


“We’ve seen that telehealth is an extraordinary tool,” said David Holmberg, chief executive of Pittsburgh-based Highmark, a multistate major medical system. “It’s convenient for the patient, and it’s convenient for the doctor. Now we need to make it sustainable and enduring.”


In a nationwide poll given last year, 8 in 10 Americans who had used telehealth said they “liked it” or “loved it.” Moreover, 80% of participants reported that they were likely to continue using telehealth after the pandemic.


The appeal of telemedicine is due in part to a holistic delivery of healthcare. Instead of simply going into a doctor’s office, patients can use wearable fitness technology, electronic scheduling systems, and high-quality video platforms to connect with their providers. 


Soon more healthcare systems will integrate technology platforms into their workflow and delivery systems. This addition will benefit individuals with chronic illnesses, allowing them to instantly share information with their doctor and avoid long appointment times.


Some insurance companies said telehealth could save money by transitioning from high cost-medical care at doctors’ offices to lower-priced virtual visits. The lower cost encourages insurance companies to market insurance plans with lower premiums that push patients to virtual care.


At the beginning of the pandemic, doctors were unsure about the level of care they could provide in a virtual visit. Stanford created tutorials to help doctors guide patients through self-exams for the most common doctor visits, such as upper respiratory infections, lower back pain, and shoulder pain. Now doctors have a better idea of how to connect with patients and perform virtual tests. With the training to achieve the same level of care, doctors can provide a convenient option for consumers.