Telemedicine—health care delivered virtually by internet or phone—has roots in patient demands for more convenient alternatives to care. However, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed telemedicine into a necessity.

Legislators temporarily loosened regulations for telemedicine in 2020 to help providers continue delivering care despite social distancing regulations. These policy changes drastically changed the landscape of virtual health care. In the first few months of the pandemic, 30 percent of patients used video telehealth, compared with 4 percent in the same period in 2019.

Current research is examining experiences with telemedicine, trends in its use, and its impact on health care services.

RAND work examined the early experience of practicing virtual psychiatry during the pandemic. A year into the pandemic, researchers revisited the appropriateness of telemedicine for psychiatry patients. RAND surveys have found that openness to using telehealth is on the rise, particularly among Black respondents and among patients who can see their own providers. Patients tend to prefer in-person visits, especially if virtual visits are more expensive.

In addition, RAND researchers examined telemedicine use in treating specific populations, including:

As the pandemic comes to a close, researchers will need to continue studying telehealth’s effects on health care costs, outcomes, access, and equity.