Expansion of Telemedicine in the Era of COVID-19

Zoe Lockhart • October 20, 2022

Following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an unprecedented increase in the use of telemedicine. Prior to 2020, many states – including New York – limited the use of telemedicine for legal, logistical, and ethical reasons. In response to growing mortality and hospitalization rates, the Trump Administration instated the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which temporarily removed some of the barriers facing telemedicine. As a consequence, telemedicine was now a viable option for millions of patients across the United States. 

It is undeniable that this shift towards telehealth has had a large impact on medicine. In a recent HITLAB townhall, Dr. Marcelo Vengas, a physician and health activist, spoke of his own personal experience using telemedicine in a patient care setting, and the advantages it afforded both patients and providers during the pandemic. Notably, telemedicine has reduced the risk of COVID-19 exposure in healthcare settings, increased access to care, and allowed for more effective surveillance of patients and diseases. This technology, in combination with other digital health products such as apps – like the MIT COVID-19 tracking app – or AI decompensation models, has proved invaluable for both patient care and public health.  

While Dr. Venegas brought up telemedicine’s perks, he also warned of its limitations. One such limitation is its availability – or lack thereof- to certain populations. Since telemedicine is costly, requires access to technology, and demands a huge amount of infrastructure, it tends to cater to more advantaged countries and people. Underserved communities who do not have access to telemedicine, then, end up missing out on a valuable healthcare resource. In implementing telemedicine solutions, it is therefore critical to consider how to ensure equal access to, and availability of, care. 

Judging from the dramatic rise in the use of telehealth during the pandemic, it would not be surprising if telemedicine continues to be a critical resource for patient care in the future – after all, these past few years have shown that telemedicine has the potential to influence patient care and health outcomes in a meaningful way. As we navigate this new and exciting digital era, though, we must work to not only optimize healthcare and healthcare delivery, but to achieve social justice as well. 

To engage in more conversation about this topic, join us next week online at our Digital Heath Symposium: Digital Health & Human Rights


October 27 @ 11am – 2pm ET