Though telehealth and other virtual healthcare services have become fixtures for healthcare providers and their patients, it’s still unclear how extensively they may be used in the near future and once COVID is fully behind us.

Data from a recent survey found that while a large percentage of patients gave telehealth visits high scores, they also indicated that they won’t be mothballing in-person visits any time soon. In the survey, 87% of patients reported high satisfaction rates with their telehealth services. However, 82% said they still have face-to-face doctor’s visits, and 80% said telehealth appointments met some but not all of their health needs.

While 75% of patients had primary care visits through telehealth, understandably, specialties like ophthalmology, rheumatology, and oncology had low patient usage of virtual visits.

Yet even with the Delta variant currently creating havoc across the country in terms of high case and hospitalization figures, telehealth giant Amwell is projecting lower volumes of telehealth use this fall and winter than initially expected. With new mask mandates in response to the Delta variant and an anticipated weaker flu season due to increased mask use and other protections, the company is projecting 200,000 fewer telehealth visits in the second half of 2021 due to patients going to urgent care instead.

Though it remains to be seen how extensive the current COVID wave will get this fall with schools back in session and wide variations in mask usage and other safety measures across the country, it’s at least clear that telehealth will be an in-demand service in the short term. For a lot of patients, it just comes down to the ease and convenience of being able to participate in a care visit from a location of their choosing.

For others, like patients managing chronic conditions who may have mobility or transportation issues or patients who require only a follow-up visit or check-in, telehealth visits can make a lot more sense. Virtual care visits can reduce the time and resources a healthcare professional spends on each patient’s care while patients benefit from avoiding difficult or unnecessary travel and the time and expenses associated with it.

Yet for still others, access to telehealth can mean the difference between getting care and not getting it, particularly when it comes to devising a treatment plan. This can lead to unhealthy gaps in care and poor outcomes. For example, for underserved populations and those in rural areas, telehealth can be a lifeline to remove barriers to feasible healthcare access.

We’re still waiting for Congress to determine whether they will expand pandemic telehealth policies past 2021 for purposes of Medicare reimbursement, which could have significant implications for the broader healthcare system. However, with the Delta variant raging, there’s no telling what the timeline is for putting it all behind us and what impact this may have on broader public health initiatives. Office visits are expected to be reevaluated in light of the ongoing situation.

To learn more about how to ensure that your patients have an optimal telehealth appointment experience in addition to a satisfactory visit, check out the guide, “The Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”