Telehealth and the COVID-19 Pandemic: International Perspectives and a Health Systems Framework for Telehealth Implementation to Support Critical Response
OBJECTIVES: Telehealth implementation is a complex systems-based endeavour. This paper compares telehealth responses to (COrona VIrus Disease 2019) COVID-19 across ten countries to identify lessons learned about the complexity of telehealth during critical response such as in response to a global pandemic. Our overall objective is to develop a health systems-based framework for telehealth implementation to support critical response. METHODS: We sought responses from the members of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) Telehealth Working Group (WG) on their practices and perception of telehealth practices during the times of COVID-19 pandemic in their respective countries. We then analysed their responses to identify six emerging themes that we mapped to the World Health Organization (WHO) model of health systems. RESULTS: Our analysis identified six emergent themes. (1) Government, legal or regulatory aspects of telehealth; (2) Increase in telehealth capacity and delivery; (3) Regulated and unregulated telehealth; (4) Changes in the uptake and perception of telemedicine; (5) Public engagement in telehealth responses to COVID-19; and (6) Implications for training and education. We discuss these themes and then use them to develop a systems framework for telehealth support in critical response. CONCLUSION: COVID-19 has introduced new challenges for telehealth support in times of critical response. Our themes and systems framework extend the WHO systems model and highlight that telemedicine usage in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is complex and multidimensional. Our systems-based framework provides guidance for telehealth implementation as part of health systems response to a global pandemic such as COVID-19.