Video conferences have long outlived their charm, but one pandemic staple remains popular: the virtual doctor’s visit. Now politicians around the country are racing against deadlines to make sure their constituents aren’t forced back to in-person medicine if they don’t want it.
For months, Jim Des Marais, who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, has been video-calling with his specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital instead of making the exhausting three-hour-plus drive to Boston from his home in Vermont. For now, he’s still able to make the drive. “But that won’t last,” says Des Marais, a 60-year-old lawyer. ALS is a degenerative neurological disease. “There will be a point in time when my disease progresses, and traveling will be very difficult for me.”
Many telemedicine visits became legal because of emergency government measures early in the Covid-19 pandemic. States and the federal government swept aside some of the legal and insurance thicket that for years held back technological progress in the almost $4 trillion U.S. healthcare sector. Practicing medicine across state lines without all the usual licenses? Sure. Virtual Medicare visits? Fine. Charging the same for online visits as in-person? No problem.
In the last week of March 2020, telehealth visits surged 154% from the year before, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of the year, a Harris poll found that roughly two-thirds of Americans would prefer to get at least some of their health care online.
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