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Health care in a post-pandemic world: Telehealth is here to stay, but so are in-person visits

What's the future of telehealth as we emerge out of the pandemic? This guest contributor weighs in. Photo via Getty Images

As medical practitioners were faced with the abrupt arrival of the pandemic, they had to immediately adapt to new technologies and switch to telehealth – fundamentally changing the way healthcare is delivered. During the first few months of the pandemic, many private practices were forced to close their doors. Some have since opened with limited schedules, but many are still feeling the effects linger.

Telehealth has grown in popularity due to the efficiency and convenience it offers to both patients and providers. A recent CDC report noted that 30 percent of weekly health care visits occurred via telehealth from June to November 2020. According to the Health Center Program Data, 43 percent of health centers were capable of providing telehealth in 2019, compared to 95 percent of health centers using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As patients and healthcare institutions navigate this remote landscape, many challenges need to be addressed. Particularly, the rules and regulations that govern telehealth and how to ensure telehealth platforms can be used safely to offer care. Beyond policies and laws, there are several infrastructure hurdles affecting the implementation of telehealth services in rural areas, making this population vulnerable to inadequate access to care. The same CDC report noted that rural areas reported the lowest average of weekly health care visits via telehealth.

Practitioners also face new challenges evaluating and diagnosing patients without having the ability to do a hands-on physical exam and access to vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate and temperature during virtual visits. Telehealth visits are no match for direct, inpatient clinical visits, but practitioners are still trying to find its role in our current healthcare system.

Some of the ways we've integrated a technology-driven approach to healthcare at WellnessSpace is through putting together the best of both worlds. We focus on in-person visits that have the convenience of technology to enhance the experience of both members and their clients. We use client self-check-in kiosks, an interactive mobile app that allows our members to reserve suites on-demand, download invoices, manage their bios and message other members. We are focusing on providing an easy and integrated experience for both patients and practitioners, which is something that will play a key role in how practitioners and patients navigate the "new normal" as we move forward.

We can expect telehealth to continue to play a vital role in providing healthcare, but for the vast majority of practices, telehealth will supplement in-person visits, not replace them. In a release from the Department of Health and Human Services, surveyed practitioners expect telehealth to remain at 21 percent compared to 51 percent during the pandemic.

Overall, the pandemic has opened the doors for telehealth and increased its adoption among all age groups. It's provided an alternative for practitioners to still offer care, just in a different way. While it's not ideal for all situations, this technology is a tool that can help practitioners continue what they do best – helping patients.

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Sunny Somaiya is the co-owner of Houston-based WellnessSpace.

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Building Houston

 
 

Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, gave the keynote address at this year's State of Space event. Screenshot via houston.org

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

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