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June 1, 2021

When COVID-19 had Americans following stay-at-home orders last spring, an interesting phenomenon swept the medical sphere. More than ever before there was an increased utilization and adoption of telehealth systems. The pandemic led to the revolutionization of remote healthcare. For those that chose to seize the opportunity, telehealth has reinvigorated the healthcare system.

With the onset of COVID-19, healthcare systems reevaluated their patient care, realizing patients can, in fact, receive quality care at home. For too long healthcare systems have relied on patients being dependent on their physicians for their own conditional management, but patients should be continually encouraged to self-manage as much as is safely possible. This empowers patients. It instills confidence in them. It grants them more autonomy. Telehealth is one such way for healthcare systems to return that power to patients.

It is crucial for providers, including gastroenterologists, to implement easy and effective telehealth experiences into their practices. Telehealth systems are crucial for providing safe, timely, and accessible care to patients. Physician offices are often busy with calls, appointments, and patients. The more access patients have to self-sufficient resources, the more empowered they will feel.

In the current setting of COVID-19, some patients may be wary of in-person appointments, as it can increase their risk of exposure to the virus. Elderly patients, in particular, may feel safest in the comfort of their own homes, making access to telehealth invaluable.  Without this option, it might result in patients harmfully delaying the care they need. Likewise, if a patient has been exposed to COVID but is dealing with a high-importance issue and should not delay their care, telehealth allows them to keep their scheduled appointment without having to physically come into the office.

In a study conducted by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, which is comprised of more than 1,000 healthcare organizations, technology firms, and nonprofits, more than 75% of respondents reported that telehealth enabled them to provide quality care for patients. This positive report covered care for COVID-19-related care, acute care, chronic disease management, hospital/emergency department follow-up, care coordination, preventative care, and mental/behavioral health.

Just last year, the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) published a guide outlining insightful factors practices should consider when developing their own telehealth system. They suggest GI practices consider HIPAA-compliance, appointment reminders, scheduling capabilities, e-prescribing, billing support, provider support, messaging capabilities, access or use of online forms, revenue cycle management and real-time video conferencing.

The ACG is a great resource for practices to find guidance and recommendations when starting their own telehealth services. In tandem with the ACG, The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) have developed a guide for practices to stay informed while navigating the rising realm of telehealth.