As the world surpasses the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting rapid rise of telehealth continues to propel forward in 2021, with CHOC patients consistently reporting a 90-plus percent satisfaction rate in surveys, hospital officials say.
Virtual visits with a CHOC provider via a smart phone, tablet, or computer not only are here to stay, but are expected to continue growing at a rapid pace – not just in Orange and surrounding counties, but nationally and globally.
“The rapid growth and acceptance of telehealth is a definite sign that consumers want easier access, convenience, and comfort as they seek medical care,” says Dr. Michael Weiss, vice president of population health. “CHOC is committed to providing the highest quality and service to fulfill these needs.”
Kathleen Lear’s son, Matthew, 18, was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy when he was 6 and the last 12 years have been a non-stop roller-coaster, she says.
In mid-February 2021, Matthew became the first epilepsy patient at CHOC to undergo a procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), in which electrodes were placed in his brain to help reduce his seizures by sending electrical currents to jam his malfunctioning brain signals. In another first, CHOC recently conducted DBS on a patient with the movement order dystonia.
“I think it was amazing that we even could have a virtual neurology visit,” Kathleen says. “The doctors were able to assess a lot by watching Matthew walk and run and touch his finger to his nose.”
Kathleen says the telehealth session was especially helpful because her husband is working from home during the pandemic and he, too, could participate.
“It was really nice,” she says.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the global telehealth market size was valued at $61.4 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $559.52 billion by 2027, exhibiting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.5 percent during the forecast period.
The U.S. telehealth market size was valued at $9.5 billion in 2020, up a whopping 80 percent over 2019, and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 29 percent between 2020 and 2025, according to market research firm Arizton.
At CHOC, a lot of teamwork was necessary for the quick pivot that began in the early days of the pandemic, says Lisa Stofko, CHOC’s telehealth manager.
“There is a difference between a two-way video and telehealth,” Lisa says. “We are committed to making telehealth a seamless experience for both patients and providers, and ensuring that it replicates the safe, quality care patients are used to receiving in person.”
The information services department, Lisa says, worked feverishly to get technology set up so clinicians could use video conference software that came with extra layers of protection that allowed them to safely consult with patients virtually.
Training videos were delivered to more than 700 providers so they could replicate the in-person visit as closely as possible, Lisa says. And a 20-member steering committee was established from key stakeholders from across CHOC’s health system — including administrative executives and physicians — to further improve the telehealth experience and capabilities at CHOC.
In December 2020, Dr. Robert Hillyard, CHOC neonatologist, and Dr. Kenneth Grant, CHOC pediatric gastroenterologist, began serving as co-medical directors of CHOC’s telehealth program, while each retaining existing clinical responsibilities.
Dr. Weiss tracks telehealth visits daily.
From March 2020 through April 2020, CHOC telehealth visits zoomed to 14,457, from 2,233 prior to the pandemic, he says.
Since the pandemic began through early February 2021, CHOC telehealth visits totaled 95,757. The average number of telehealth visits per month during COVID-19 have remained in the 8,500 range.
Telehealth visits at CHOC have grown dramatically in both primary and specialty care.
In January 2021, the most visits (370) in CHOC’s Primary Care network were recorded at Orange Primary Care, followed by Pediatric and Adult Medicine (338), Clinica Para Ninos (286), Breathmobile (176), Los Alamitos Pediatrics (149) and Boys and Girls Clinic Santa Ana (92).
In January 2021, the most visits (1,498) in CHOC’s Specialty Care network were recorded at Providence Speech and Hearing Center, followed by endocrinology (1,017), mental health (991), gastroenterology (893), neurology (481), pulmonary (450), the Thompson Autism Center (407), and outpatient rehabilitation (301).
Kathleen says she looks forward to continuing Matthew’s treatment at CHOC – in person when possible, and virtually, too. She finds telehealth visits especially useful when doctors want to go over test results.
“There’s definitely a time and a place for it,” Kathleen says. “And I just feel so privileged to have CHOC so close to us.”