Without warning, COVID-19 has forced Americans to live differently and catapulted medicine into a new normal. While we hope our social lives revert back, healthcare should use this moment to leap forward.

Efforts to limit office visits to prevent the spread of disease has necessitated the rapid implementation of telehealth. Without telehealth access to routine wellness and follow up visits, patients are at risk for progression of chronic health issues, delayed diagnosis of new ones, and re-emergence of vaccine preventable illnesses.

I first understood the immense value of telehealth on Oct 12, 2012. As I sat, watching a live baseball playoff game, my brother called on videochat. I could see immediately that my niece was working too hard to breathe. I directed them to the emergency room, and she was in the intensive care unit by morning.

Until now, broad implementation of telehealth was hampered by regulatory hurdles and institutional resistance to change. Emergency actions by governments across the country have facilitated the rapid expansion of telehealth. But these actions will expire if we do not act.

We should use this moment to reevaluate our delivery of healthcare. The old model was rife with barriers to care. Telehealth brings access to rural America where provider shortages and long commutes are pervasive obstacles. Telehealth can help working Americans miss less work and pediatric patients miss less school.

Telehealth is not a panacea, but should be a critical part of our new normal in medicine.

Genevieve Whiting, MD

Cape Elizabeth

Officer, American Academy of Pediatrics, Maine

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