The latest from Compassion & Choices

The Need for Telehealth Has Never Been Greater

The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed one of the biggest transformations of healthcare: the way doctors treat patients across the country.

Sylvia J. Trujillo, Policy Director and Senior Legislative Counsel for Compassion & ChoicesThis week, I spoke to members of the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) during a webinar to highlight the importance of telehealth among high risk and vulnerable patients who are near the end of their lives. The webinar was part of NHMA’s COVID-19 Virtual Briefing Series: Session 3: COVID-19 Impact on Health Care Delivery.

Telehealth, the use of computers, smart phones or telephones to receive healthcare services at home, as opposed to a doctor’s office, has been in use for a while, but it has recently gained acceptance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The need for telehealth has never been greater.

It helps alleviate the shortage of doctors and nurses because telehealth allows medical professionals who are quarantined at home to still provide hospice, palliative, and other services online to patients at home. Telehealth is especially important for patients who do not have COVID-19 and have a serious or terminal diagnosis because it keeps them away from emergency rooms and urgent care facilities where they could get infected with the virus.

These virtual consultations bridge some of the gaps in access to healthcare among Latinos. Transportation costs, time off from work, and costly visits to the emergency room are no longer necessary. And, telehealth allows Latinos to find culturally competent providers who speak and understand Spanish well. Despite significant adoption of smartphones among Latinos/ Hispanics; however, there must be increased broadband access to ensure reliable connections when using this technology.

We know for a fact that this pandemic is not going to end anytime soon.

As governors lift stay-at-home orders and hospitals and health systems throughout the country resume elective, non-emergency care, it is critical to change policies to determine the best way to keep these virtual services moving forward.

Patients, their loved ones, and clinicians increasingly are adopting and supporting the use of telehealth and other virtual services to deliver end-of-life care. Policymakers must extend their financial and policy support for telehealth throughout the public health emergency and after it ends; otherwise, our sickest and most vulnerable patients with cancer and other incurable diseases will be at greater risk of dying painfully and prematurely.