Like so many technologies before it, telehealth is a disruptive force with seemingly limitless potential. It can be a phone call between a doctor and a patient, or a message exchange between a primary care provider and a specialist. It can even be a consumer answering a few simple questions online and getting the prescription they need with the help of an algorithm.
Telehealth has gone through a roller coaster ride in the last year and a half. In the early months of the pandemic, the number of virtual visits between providers and patients surged to a magnitude never before imagined. By October, the number of virtual visits began leveling out high above the pre-pandemic rate. The most recent data from April of 2021 shows that virtual visits continue to account for a large portion of health care services, especially in areas like behavioral health.
But what tomorrow holds is still a mystery. Will telehealth help save health care from unsustainable cost growth and inequities in outcomes? Or will it do the opposite?