ROCHESTER, Minn. - Before the pandemic, digital health was a rapidly growing concept, but not without hesitations. At the height of the pandemic, it was a valuable tool to keep care providers and patients connected.
At the height of the pandemic, in-person healthcare at Mayo Clinic dropped around 80 to 90 percent and was replaced by digital healthcare. Although more people are returning to the doctor's office in person, digital healthcare isn't going away. But it doesn't come without its challenges. In 2020, state and federal government changed some regulations to be less prohibitive of telehealth. But when and if the public health emergency is declared over, it's unclear what kind of legal barriers digital medicine will face. Because Mayo Clinic has a national and international reach, licensure is also an issue because providers are licensed on a state by state basis, and remote care laws vary between states.
"We're hoping that through the research we're doing now and the value that will be proven out of the public health emergency, we'll see favorable changes in that regulatory environment," says Dr. Steve Ommen, Chair of Connected Care Committee at Mayo Clinic.
Overall, telehealth made an impact in preventing delayed care. In a Mayo research survey, up to 35% of patients said they would not have sought care during the height of the pandemic if they couldn't do it through telemedicine.
Mayo Clinic is beginning to see a decline in telehealth visits, but not down to pre-pandemic levels. About 20% of Mayo appointments are virtual.
Some areas of medicine are only seeing a small decrease in telehealth visits. Dr. Bipinchandra Krishna's psychiatric office in Mankato only saw patients in person pre-pandemic. It quickly transitioned to phone and video visits when the pandemic hit. Now, nearly all of his appointments are still virtual. In a survey, he found his patients are more satisfied with virtual visits. There are fewer barriers such as transportation or missing school or work for an appointment.
"Many of the video visits, families are able to participate from the living room and it's so convenient, it was much easier for them to overcome logistical baggage including transport to make it to these visits," says Dr. Krishna.