10/18 News Flash 2: Telephone Visits Surge During the Pandemic, but Will They Last?

Graphic by Maria Fernanda Pacheco.

In light of social distancing measures that came with the pandemic, many health clinics have recently shifted to providing medical advising and services over the telephone. While this new consulting modality may address digital divides and allow physicians to administer services safely, it also has its limitations. 

The growth in telemedicine over the last few months may benefit marginalized populations who have limited access to healthcare services. Since all that is required for most telehealth consults is a telephone, this allows healthcare providers to consult vulnerable groups and aid these populations. Telephone use also scales well to other specialty areas such as mental health services and ophthalmology.

Although widely useful in enabling healthcare professionals to safely work with patients, hands-on services such as vaccinations and surgeries cannot be replaced with telephone services. Patients with chronic conditions or seeking prenatal care may benefit more from a hybrid arrangement of in-person visits and checkups over the phone. Despite its benefits, payers may still feel skeptical over audio-only visits due to concerns of fraud and lack of quality data, and it appears unclear how payers and insurances will react to this trend.