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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine adoption was far from widespread. Despite obvious benefits of improving access, the technology wasn’t in place, consumers weren’t ready, and providers resisted the shift to virtual care.

Then came the pandemic – and the need for social distancing. Suddenly, telemedicine was in high demand. As the pandemic surged across the U.S., the use of telemedicine also spiked. In June 2020, approximately 40% of healthcare encounters were conducted virtually. As restrictions lifted, use of telemedicine dropped from the highs of the 2020 lockdowns to a more stable 10-15%.

And telemedine is taking incremental steps toward mainstream adoption with initiatives launched at the federal level this week.

The National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has has just launched the Home Test to Treat program, an entirely virtual community health intervention.

Telehealth services provider eMed will implement the Home Test to Treat program. Their services are provided under a contract award by NIBIB contractor, VentureWell. Having administered millions of verified at-home telehealth sessions during the pandemic, eMed will host the user-friendly Home Test to Treat website, where participants can sign up for the program, report symptoms, receive telehealth and antiviral treatment delivery, and coordinate telehealth enabled test kits.

NIBIB also has issued a contract with UMass Chan Medical School, whose researchers, in collaboration with eMed, will analyze data collected from each participating community, including the impacts of a home-based process for testing and treatment, individual attitudes about the Home Test to Treat program, and clinical outcomes from treatments.

Later this month, local and state officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania, will be the first to pilot the Home Test to Treat program. Up to 8,000 eligible residents are anticipated to participate in the program.

Program organizers will gather information from participants to identify best practices and make improvements to the Home Test to Treat model that can be used to implement the program on a larger scale.

Additional communities across the country will be selected to participate based on level of community need, access to healthcare treatment, expected COVID-19 infection rates and socio-economic factors. Through collaborations with local health departments, Home Test to Treat aims to offer services to approximately 100,000 people across the United States in the coming year.

Major pharmacy chains including CVS and Walgreens already offer telehealth services that can help facilitate treatments for COVID-19, and some primary care physicians also provide this option for their patients. Walgreens partnered with companies including DoorDash and Uber to offer free deliveries of COVID-19 antivirals last year.