The Big Unlock: How COVID-19 will Unlock a New Care Future

I recently had the pleasure of representing Aligned Telehealth and our Amwell family at ‘The Big Unlock’ virtual event where we dove into the question: How will connected health technology change the future of healthcare? We were joined by Brian Scarpelli, Senior Policy Counsel, ACT, Dr. Wilson Wang, Founder & CEO, Walking Doctors, Dr. Joseph Mcmenamin, Principal, Mcmenamin Law Offices, and Michael Thomas, CEO, Appian Partners. The goal of the conversation was not only to examine the changes brought on by COVID-19, but also to examine how these changes may impact the future of healthcare delivery.

As a geriatric psychiatrist by training, I’ve long been a believer that mental healthcare is one of the most deliverable specialties via telehealth.  I started Aligned Telehealth because I knew there had to be a better way for providers to access consumers who needed care. Today, we can provide a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation to patients 24/7. Our platform has reduced psych evaluation wait times from the national average of about 8-12 hours to 30-40 minutes. This means we’re able to not only take care of mental health patients but can also improve throughput and open up hospital beds for higher acuity patients. During COVID-19 when these beds were in short order, the ability to use telehealth to keep patients out of the ER or at least make their stay their shorter was critical.

Despite my beliefs of the value of telehealth for mental health patients long before the pandemic, COVID-19 has seemingly overnight increased the number of patients and providers who have and are willing to try virtual care. And today, more people than ever consider telehealth to be an acceptable and quicker way to access healthcare. So how will this impact how care is delivered for years to come? Here are my top three takeaways from our discussion during the event:

  1. Telehealth must integrate: When it comes to mental health specifically, few EHR systems can be embraced. This makes it difficult for providers to want to use the technology. Previously, we’ve taken a very hospital-centric approach to things like EHR integration, billing and coding but to continue sustaining telehealth growth we must take a more provider-centric approach to ensure it’s easy to use and works with their preferred systems.
  2. The mental health toll: The pandemic took a clear toll on the physical health of many Americans, but it’s the mental toll that I’m most worried about. Research shows that the number of individuals reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety are much higher than normal. We also know that those who suffer from mental health issues often have other comorbidities. At the same time, we lack the providers needed to be able to treat all those in need. Thanks to telehealth, mental health treatment can be a more regular part of a person’s healthcare experience, allowing them to access care wherever and whenever they need it.
  3. Regulation needs to continue to adapt to the increasing demand for care: There has been much debate regarding which elements of legislation waived during the pandemic will remain waived.  We know that many of these modifications have increased the delivery of quality mental healthcare and we feel strongly that they must remain in effect.  We must maintain the ability for psychiatric providers to deliver care across state lines, regardless of the originating site.  It is also critical for payors to continue to reimburse for care delivered in both rural and urban sites.  We know that lifting these legislative barriers has enabled providers to care for those who desperately need it, and will continue to increase access to mental healthcare in the future.