Coronavirus panic has fueled the telehealth revolution in Colorado — and we won’t go back

“We’ve made three years of progress in about three weeks,” UCHealth’s medical director for virtual health says.

Michael Booth, Colorado Sun.
Nurse Debra Blidy looks at a patient's vital signs in the Virtual ICU at UCHealth administrative offices on Sept. 25, 2019, in Aurora. UCHealth systems are using an innovative new system of high tech monitoring to care for patients in hospital rooms. (Photo by Seth McConnell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Colorado patients visiting their doctors virtually through video links, phone calls or online chats are up more than 2,000% in some larger health systems during the COVID-19 crisis, easing life for consumers and promising permanent changes long after the virus is gone.

Turning a short-term necessity into a long-term virtue for consumers and providers, the state’s largest health systems are seeing video urgent care visits rise — one system jumped to 260 a day this week from 20 on a normal day. Systems that allow patients to email their doctors have seen volumes surge from 10,000 messages a day during a normal flu season to 16,000 a day at their COVID-19 peak.

“Through March, it’s been absolutely exponential growth in demand for virtual visits,” said Dr. Chris Davis, medical director for Virtual Health in the UCHealth system, with a network of hospitals, primary and specialty care providers around the state.

While some systems, like Kaiser Permanente Colorado, already had nearly all their providers rotating into virtual care, by video, chat or phone calls, UCHealth had a smaller subset operating virtually before the pandemic hit. UCHealth had been expanding virtual care from its emphasis on primary visits into more specialties, but pandemic planning rapidly accelerated the timing, said Kathy Deanda, UCHealth’s senior director for ambulatory services and virtual health.

“So we spun off 600 virtual clinics across our system in a short period of time,” Deanda said.

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