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For Dr. Aditi U. Joshi, the phrase “The doctor will see you now” is taking on new meaning as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates the use of telehealth technology.

An emergency medicine physician at Philadelphia’s Jefferson University Hospital system, Joshi has been an early adopter of telehealth technology. She is a telehealth fellowship director, chair of the telehealth committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians and co-director of the Digital Health Scholarly Inquiry Track at Sidney Kimmel Medical College. Joshi will bring this expertise to next year’s 4Front Conference.

During a recent 4Front podcast, she talked about how the pandemic is making a strong case for telehealth technology—a field she didn’t originally intend to enter. “I like to say that my career is a series of accidents, because I can’t say that I made a concerted effort to become an early adopter of telemedicine,” she says. “I just stumbled upon it. I really liked the model, and then I joined a startup company in 2013 and I enjoyed it—and so I kept on with it.” She moved onto Jefferson in 2016 which had created a telehealth program in 2015. Initially, there were barriers with engagement and utilization of this modality like most new technologies.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With concerns about spreading the virus in crowded medical offices and emergency rooms, doctors across America turned to telehealth platforms to safely treat patients. The period starting March 9 “was probably the two busiest weeks of my life,” Joshi says. “We’ve screened thousands of patients for COVID over the platform since then.”

The numbers back up Joshi’s experience. A recent U.S. Health and Human Services report that analyzed claims data from January to early June found that prior to the pandemic, just 0.1 percent of all Medicare primary care doctors’ appointments took place via video telehealth technology. By April, the rate rose to 43.5 percent and leveled off in late May at about 30 percent—but that’s still a 350-fold increase compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Joshi is hard at work evaluating telehealth’s effectiveness during the initial pandemic outbreak. She’s also writing a medical school curriculum and a manual for converting practices into virtual offices. With the arrival of fall and an expected rise in COVID-19 cases, Joshi’s diagnosis is that telehealth is not going away. The Jefferson Hospital system is still staging 28 percent of patient appointments via telehealth. “We are continuing to do it,” she says, but she adds that “there has to be an understanding of what its utility is and how we ensure it’s used effectively.”

By next summer, she hopes discussions at the 4Front Conference will focus on how telehealth technology can give a booster shot to healthcare, particularly in reaching vulnerable populations. “It’s been very clear during this pandemic: How do we use the technology? What is our plan to use the technology to help fill gaps in health access and equity?” she asks. “Because we want to recognize the challenges we have in our system, and now we have technology as a possible solution. What are we going to do about it?”

Listen To Aditi's Podcast

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