Last summer, when I wrote the blog, What Patients and Providers Want From Telehealth, consumerism drove the demand and I recommended that providers use virtual visits to expand trusted access to care for a younger, more digitally oriented generation.1 Today, the COVID-19 public health emergency is accelerating demand for telehealth and is driving unprecedented change.
What’s changed due to the COVID-19 crisis?
Providing virtual healthcare is no longer just about convenience and choice, it is a necessity to protect the safety of both patients and providers of all ages. Virtual visits allow patients to stay home to receive the care they need, avoiding the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is especially true for those considered high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including people aged 65 years and older, people with chronic high-risk conditions or underlying medical conditions, those who smoke, and those who may be immunocompromised.2 Additionally, virtual visit technology gives providers the flexibility to deliver care from their home, providing them the same protections from contagion.
Providers are more willing to use technology solutions that are not yet integrated with their practice management workflow and EHR during the crisis. Trading ideal workflow for rapid deployment of virtual care platforms, providers are quickly adapting to meet the needs of their patients in this crisis. We are seeing this with our client base, where many providers are interested in taking our solution as a standalone option in order to see patients immediately, with the plan to implement the fully integrated solution soon.
I still believe that in the long term, physicians will be more likely to continue with virtual visits when the delivery aligns with the way they practice medicine in person, including scheduling, reminders, documentation and insurance, or patient payment processing. In the short term, providers are stepping up to the challenge, adding virtual visit functionality to their service to meet the needs of their patients.
Medicare, Medicaid, commercial payers and states have all taken action to remove policy barriers to telehealth utilization to address this pandemic.3-7 Changes include recommending using telehealth when possible to help prevent the spread of a virus, allowing the originating site to be the patients home and waiving cost sharing for telehealth visits, including visits for mental health care. These actions continue to evolve, are not consistent by payer, and are not necessarily permanent. However, I am hopeful that many of these policy deviations will not be rolled back post crisis.
What hasn’t changed?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were already pushing the industry—albeit reluctantly, out of its proverbial comfort zone—with the demand for greater autonomy, convenience, and control over their healthcare experience. I expect now more than ever, patients will prefer to see their own doctor virtually and will increasingly choose medical providers who offer virtual visit capabilities over those who don’t. Similarly, providers will want to continue to see their own patients virtually, get paid for it, and will want video visits to integrate with their practice management workflow and the electronic health record (EHR). My hope is that this newfound adoption of telehealth becomes one of the silver linings to result from this tragic time.
- CCHPCA: https://www.cchpca.org/resources/covid-19-telehealth-coverage-policies
- CCHPCA State changes:https://www.cchpca.org/resources/covid-19-related-state-actions
- Medicare: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-telemedicine-health-care-provider-fact-sheet
- Medicaid Telehealth Guidance to states: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/downloads/medicaid-telehealth-services.pdf