Allen Heinemann, Northwestern University, closed the workshop with a brief summary of highlights from the workshop. In two days of lively exchanges among practitioners and researchers in a variety of fields, the workshop provided the Social Security Administration with a detailed portrait of the benefits and challenges of using telehealth technology for patient evaluations across a wide range of disciplines.
Heinemann noted that telehealth encapsulates health care delivery via a wide range of modalities, including synchronous and asynchronous video, phone, email, text, and hybrid interactions between care providers and patients and among teams of allied health professionals. Telehealth approaches have been adopted across a broad array of specialties including neurology, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, dermatology, and many others. While virtual and remote models of care have been successfully used in rural communities for decades, the adoption of telehealth rapidly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speakers described ways in which this shift has created new opportunities and new challenges, narrowing some gaps in care access and equity while exacerbating health care inequities in other ways. Participants examined how telehealth tools can reduce care inequities if they are designed for, and informed by, the needs of the disability community and responsive to the realities of America’s digital divide. Speakers also explored the importance of clinician and patient training, quality assurance, strong security protections, and
deliberate steps to improve access for all patients. Researchers, practitioners, and advocacy organizations are working to take lessons learned from telehealth adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic to guide and improve telehealth delivery and regulation in the postpandemic transition.