LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to consider ways to expand telehealth services even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Since stay-at-home orders were issued in March, county departments offering medical consultations, mental health services, alcohol and substance abuse treatment and preventive care have shifted to virtual consults and evaluations.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger believes this approach, borne out of necessity, could allow the county to reach more residents in need of care. Barger and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl co-authored a motion asking the county’s chief executive to assess which virtual programs could provide an effective long-term standard of care.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth operations in the Los Angeles County health care system have served a critical role to ensure community members receive the care they need,” Barger said. “While we have had to make adjustments during the Safer at Home directive, these advancements could allow us to better reach our communities in a way that is innovative, convenient and — most importantly — accessible to those in need.”
Video platforms have enabled patients to connect with services from home while ensuring providers remain compliant with HIPPA, the 1996 federal law that ensures patient confidentiality.
The county may also be able to save money by relying on telehealth. These services have decreased use of emergency response and health care facilities and have supplemented more costly modes of care, according to Barger.
Kuehl said patients who had trouble making in-person appointments in the past are getting treatment now.
“Allowing our clients to receive vital health and mental health services from their own homes has resulted in improved patient access and fewer missed appointments,” Kuehl said. “I am excited to discover ways to further expand telehealth services and make it even easier for our residents to receive great care in the future.”
A report from the county’s chief executive officer is expected back in 45 days on whether hard-to-reach communities have benefited from increased access to telehealth services and which virtual programs are worth maintaining long-term.