By Stephanie Wilding, CEO, CommunityHealth.
COVID-19 sent telemedicine on the fast track for widespread adoption, helping doctors manage and care for their patients — especially those at high risk — during the nationwide shelter-in-place ordinance. But for patients in low-income families, there wasn’t such a simple solution.
While the ACA makes health insurance accessible for a significant number of Americans, there are still millions of vulnerable people who rely on receiving care from free clinics like CommunityHealth. So when COVID-19 hit the U.S. in March 2020 and strict shelter-in-place orders went into effect across the Chicagoland area, many low-income patients were left unable to seek basic treatment for their preexisting, ongoing, or newly-developed medical needs.
At CommunityHealth, the nation’s largest volunteer-based free clinic, we strive to deliver high-quality care to those who need it most, providing 15,000 medical and dental visits to thousands of Chicagoans who are underserved and uninsured each year. Up to 65 percent of our patients live at or below the federal poverty line, which is $24,300 for a family of four. Many also suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which require ongoing medical treatment.
While most healthcare providers turned to telehealth solutions to continue providing care to their high-risk patients during the pandemic, we knew that many of our low-income families wouldn’t be able to download additional software in advance of a virtual visit — a common prerequisite for many telemedicine tools — or even have reliable access to high-speed internet.
What we needed was a solution that worked with any smartphone as seamlessly as possible, and an easy-to-use telehealth solution that could be rapidly deployed across our network of providers. We also needed a simple platform for physicians and, most importantly, a user-friendly and accessible solution for our patients.