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Telemedicine: One year later

Last year, doctors were rushing to ramp up their telemedicine capabilities. Now, virtual visits are likely to remain a permanent part of the health care industry.

DANVILLE, Pa. — The technology isn't necessarily groundbreaking; most of it has been around for some time.  But it's the speed with which the transformation has occurred that has been most astonishing.

"My personal opinion is, it would have probably taken us 10 years just to get to where we've gotten in this last year," said David Fletcher, associate vice president of telemedicine for Geisinger.

Fletcher says that when the pandemic began, Geisinger went from conducting about 800 virtual visits a month to 30,000 to 40,0000.

"I think there was maybe a misperception early on that, you know, this is a great thing for a tech-savvy person, maybe the younger patients, and we haven't found that to be the case at all. Actually, it's really been well-accepted across a lot of ages and some of our older patients really appreciate it, because they don't have to worry about transportation and things like that."

Geisinger has found that for many patients, virtual appointments are even better than going to the doctor's office.

"We had a patient who had a brain tumor, and he told us that, you know, just having to go to Geisinger and then just being on an elevator makes me nauseous because of the tumor, and so being able to just sit in my house, and have this visit has been such a godsend," said Fletcher.

There have been challenges such as lack of internet access in rural communities. And some patients will just always prefer that in-person interaction.

But for those who enjoy the convenience of a virtual visit, telemedicine will likely remain a permanent fixture in the health care industry.

"We're looking at 15 to 20 percent of our outpatient visits being conducted via telemedicine," said Fletcher.

Fletcher says the last year has provided a ton of data for health systems to determine just how efficient telehealth is, and ways to make it better for the long term.