During the AFCEA Bethesda Health IT March Forward virtual event, experts said that although the COVID-19 pandemic has stimulated the usage of Telehealth drastically, there is still a long way to go in terms of broadbands and infrastructure. A quick shift to Telehealth has shown both the advantages of virtual appointments and what else needed to be done to keep up with the pace of the increased usages of telehealth facilities in the country.
- Heather Dimeris, Deputy Associate Director for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) at the Department of Health and Humans Service (HHS) said, ” Now we look at everybody that needs access, and not only do we need passage in the clinics that we typically needed in the past but now we are looking at direct consumer care where you need to have access for broadband services in a patient’s home”.
- Paul Kundtz, Director of the Division of Information Technology at HHS’s Indian Health Service (IHS) said that his bureau had realized its phone systems were put under stress due to the increase in telehealth appointments. He said, ” What we found is most of our telehealth appointments are done through audio-only. Just over the phone. You would be surprised, even coming into this I thought the video was the number one solution for telehealth interactions and it’s not, telephone is in our agency”.
- According to Kundtz, one slot in IHS is trying to look into bringing high-speed internet into the communities is Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which would “take off over the next year or two” and help to connect the digital divide between the technology and the rural communities when it comes to Telehealth.
- As the benefit of Telehealth, Dimeris said that the past year had witnessed “unprecedented collaboration” between agencies and the private sector. she said, ” It was all a hands-on-deck encounter, and then it lasted throughout the year and continues to kind of stabilize in the way that we have partnerships… it’s almost like a pandemic family of workers”.