Long-term outcomes data in this new era of virtual medicine still need to be assessed, but Dr. Bradley said he expects them to continue to be positive and that some outcomes, such as that for voice therapy, might even be improved with a greater emphasis on telemedicine. With in-person-only care, for example, a patient who smokes and drinks alcohol referred for hoarseness might have to wait several weeks for an in-person visit, meaning their high-risk status for malignancy might not be caught as early.
Explore This IssueNovember 2020
Otolaryngologists said they expect the amount of virtual care to stay well above where it was before the pandemic, but that the volume will depend on how these visits are reimbursed. For now, CMS has been renewing the policy of reimbursing virtual visits at the higher rates, but it is unknown how long that will continue.
Even as otolaryngology is proving more capable of expanding virtual visits, caution needs to be taken that some patients aren’t left behind, noted Dr. Woodson. “Rural, elderly, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are going to be relatively left in the dust on this—and these are exactly the people we want most to reach,” she said. “If medicine went 100% virtual tomorrow, there are going to be a whole lot of patients I can’t help.”
Dr. Barth added that there could be changes to the way virtual care is delivered once more outcomes are analyzed. “My hope is always that we’re providing at least the same level of care or higher through virtual visits,” he said. “But we’re looking at it very closely because we’ve seen a wider range of diagnoses during COVID through telemedicine than we did previously.”
Thomas R. Collins is a freelance medical writer based in Florida.