AMA Launches Telehealth Immersion Program to Promote Sustainability

The American Medical Association has launched a new program to help providers craft a long-term strategy for telehealth scalability and sustainability.

By Eric Wicklund

June 14, 2021 – The American Medical Association has launched a new program aimed at helping providers optimize and expand their telehealth programs.

Meg Barron, the AMA’s vice president of digital health strategy, says the AMA Telehealth Immersion Program was developed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to help providers who had jumped on the connected health bandwagon to address COVID-19 concerns and were now looking for looking to set a stable long-term strategy.

The effort builds on a digital health strategy that has been in the AMA playbook since 2016, when the organization launched its first survey on the topic (a second survey was conducted in 2019). And while that led to the creation of the Digital Health Playbook series and the Telehealth Initiative, the rapid adoption of telehealth over the past year and a half prompted the AMA to expand its efforts.

“While digital health adoption pre-COVID was already slowly on the rise, COVID massively ushered in telehealth at an incredible scale,” Barron said in a video recently released by the organization. “We’ve really seen 10 years of progress in a matter of 10 weeks, let alone months. Physicians really went from having very little, if any, exposure or use of telehealth to ending up having 60 (percent) to 90 percent of physicians using some form of virtual care during the pandemic. This was really unprecedented, and more than half of those physicians were actually using telehealth for the first time so, again, a massive shift. In a matter of weeks really, practices stood up platforms, trained physicians, members of their care team. As you think about really the workflow shifts that had to happen for this as well, this was truly remarkable.”

With COVID-19 moving into the rear-view mirror, Barron says many providers like what they’ve seen in telehealth and want to continue using it. But in many cases they rushed their programs – taking advantage of relaxed federal and state guidelines – and haven’t established a foundation for long-term adoption, including scalability and sustainability.

The challenge for many practices will be to create a hybrid platform that integrates telehealth and in-person care and meets post-pandemic guidelines for coverage and security.

“While of course pretty much everyone like we talked about has stood up telehealth or virtual care in some capacity, now there’s just so much to learn in terms of optimizing telehealth and virtual care,” Barron said. “Especially as we think about introducing, as most practices have already, in-person care as well, but what is the right mix of that? There’s plenty of add-ons for virtual care and really best practices to learn. Think about integration of remote patient monitoring or integration of different diagnostic tools.”

The program features webinars on topics like measuring the value of virtual care behind financial benefits, as well as peer-to-peer learning sessions that target specific virtual care uses, such as hypertension and behavioral health. Barron said more than 20 state societies and specialty groups have signed on to develop content for the program.

“We’re at this moment in time now where (we should be talking about) how do we focus on optimizing virtual care and really blending it with in-person care and moving towards a hybrid environment?” she said.