Telehealth: How Primary Care Is Changing
One of the more notable changes resulting from the pandemic is the upsurge in the use of telehealth, also referred to as telemedicine.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the American healthcare system was slow to embrace virtual care. Physical distancing requirements, as well as changes to payment regulations could push telehealth interactions to 1 billion by the end of 2020. Telehealth visits in March 2020 alone grew by 50 percent amid the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to research from Frost and Sullivan consultants.
Telehealth, the use of technology to connect patients and healthcare providers, isn’t a new concept. As an advocate working to expand primary care services to underserved communities, the Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC) believes that telehealth offers sustainable opportunities to ensure that communities have access to healthcare and that providers have access to revenue streams. Technical assistance is available to ensure providers have the tools and knowledge to use telehealth effectively.
In March 2020, Medicaid and Medicare expanded eligibility for reimbursement for telehealth amid the pandemic. Additionally, as of June 2020, 37 states have passed telehealth parity laws, which require private healthcare insurance companies to reimburse providers for care delivered remotely via telemedicine. One of the major obstacles to telemedicine has been the cost ramifications for providers. What’s unknown is whether the government will continue to embrace the flexibility realized during the pandemic in the years to come.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Health and Human Services Office (HHS) for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it would not levy penalties against health care providers for HIPAA noncompliance as long as they were attempting to provide telehealth services in good faith and the platform being used was not public-facing.
- Lower costs: Some research suggests that people who use telemedicine spend less time in the hospital, providing cost savings. Also, less commuting time may mean fewer secondary expenses, such as childcare and gas.
- Improved access to care: Telemedicine makes it easier for people with disabilities to access care. It can also improve access for other populations, including older adults, people who are geographically isolated and those who are incarcerated.
- Preventive care: Telemedicine may make it easier for people to access preventive care that improves their long-term health. This is especially true for people with financial or geographic barriers to quality care. For instance, a 2012 study of people with coronary artery disease found that preventive telemedicine improved health outcomes.
- Convenience: Telemedicine allows people to access care in the comfort and privacy of their own home. This may mean that a person does not have to take time off of work or arrange childcare.
- Slowing the spread of infection: Going to the doctor’s office means being around people who may be sick, often in close quarters. This can be particularly dangerous for people with underlying conditions or weak immune systems. Telemedicine eliminates the risk of picking up an infection at the doctor’s office.
- Reduced overhead expenses: Providers who offer telemedicine services may incur fewer overhead costs. For example, they may pay less for front desk support or be able to invest in an office space with fewer exam rooms.
- Additional and sustained revenue stream: Clinicians may find that telemedicine helps them sustain and supplement their income because it allows them to provide care to more patients.
- Less exposure to illness and infections: When providers see patients remotely, they do not have to worry about exposure to any pathogens the patient may carry.
- Patient satisfaction: When a patient does not have to travel to the office or wait for care, they may be happier with their care.
The experts at PCDC are available to help you with all aspects of telehealth. From choosing the technology that fits best with your practice, to obtaining reimbursement; from acquiring consent to appropriate coding for telehealth billing; from communication strategies to receiving reimbursement, PCDC will guide you through the process.
COVID-19 & Telemedicine Technical Assistance
Telemedicine helps sustain communities’ access to care and providers’ access to revenue during the pandemic. PCDC is available to provide technical assistance on initiating and maintaining these services.