Access, Equity, and Neutral Space: Telehealth Beyond the Pandemic.
As I begin my 4th year of medical school amidst the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, telehealth has allowed me to connect with many patients who previously struggled to access consistent primary care. In this essay, I describe 2 of my most formative experiences with telehealth: participating in my medical school’s new “tele-hotspotting” elective, and providing virtual gender-affirming care through our student-run free clinic. These experiences demonstrate not only telehealth’s utility during a viral pandemic, but also its potential as a powerful tool for expanding access to care and promoting health equity over the coming years. With this said, telehealth is not without limitations. Patients and clinicians alike have expressed concerns regarding the challenge of performing a physical exam and maintaining emotional connection across physical distance. A sustained expansion of telehealth is further challenged by inconsistent availability of broadband Internet, as well as a lack of standardized reimbursement procedures for telehealth visits. Strategies are available to help meet these challenges while maximizing health equity.