The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to confront a new reality when it comes to healthcare. The unprecedented impact of the pandemic has led governments and healthcare providers globally to re-evaluate their preparedness plans. One of the areas that has seen the most change is telehealth.
Until recently, telehealth was seen as a niche field with huge potential that remains unexplored. However, COVID-19 has shown that telehealth can play a critical role in times of crisis, and its use is likely to increase in the future. This blog will explore how the telehealth landscape has changed in response to COVID-19, and what lies in store for the future of telehealth in 2022 and beyond.Legislation
Regulators are starting to see the many benefits of telehealth and virtual care options. This is good news as it will provide more people with access to quality care. Some of the changes that have been made include:
- CMS implemented provisions of Section 123 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), which removed geographic location restrictions for virtual mental health services.
- CMS now allows audio-only communications, rather than requiring both audio and video two-way interaction between patients and healthcare providers.
- CMS continues to evaluate other telehealth services, such as the ability for Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to serve as distant telehealth sites and provide services to patients in their homes.
- Several states have updated their laws around access to telehealth services, including California and Georgia. A majority of these changes establish payment parity for telehealth services, ensuring providers are fairly compensated for the time and effort they put into providing telehealth services.
- Remote patient monitoring (RPM) and store-and-forward services are being recognized as ways to provide care for patients that may be too sick to visit the office in person. This includes patients recovering from surgery, elderlies, and those living with chronic conditions.
These changes are significant as they make telehealth services more readily available to those who need it, including those in vulnerable populations. This will help address at-risk patients where social barriers to care prevent individuals from seeking help in person.
The expansion of telehealth services during the pandemic has led to permanent changes in reimbursement. The continued utilization of telehealth services even after the peak of the pandemic has led to the permanent lifting of restrictions on telehealth use and reimbursement. This will continue to expand the number of reimbursable telehealth services in the future.
However, there is one trend that will shape how this develops: the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payments. Value-based care is all about paying for the quality and effectiveness of services provided, rather than the services that patients receive. It's a more efficient way to pay for healthcare, and has the potential to extend access to care to more people.
But there's one big catch: payers need to continue to pay for telehealth services. Otherwise, providers will be less likely to use telehealth, and patients will miss out on its benefits. As Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar said in his podcast, Lessons Learned from 2020 Give Us a Lens into Telehealth Adoption:
“I keep emphasizing that, but it is a really important thing. There’s no quicker way to put a chill on the whole concept than to, say, have Medicare stop paying for it or pay for only a very small amount.” .
Rising Demand & Adoption
There are several factors explaining the rising demand for telehealth services in the U.S.
1. Chronic diseases are becoming more common.
According to the CDC, chronic diseases in America are one of the leading causes of death and disability and leading drivers of the nation's $4.1 trillion annual healthcare costs.
Patients with chronic diseases often find it difficult to visit the doctor in person. This is due, in part, to the fact that their condition may continue to change and they want to stay at home where they feel more comfortable.
Care providers can use telehealth to better manage these patients by monitoring them remotely and keeping track of their condition. In addition, this will help reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.
The use of telehealth and RPM has expanded beyond chronic care patients, to include those with COVID-19. This shift is largely due to the effectiveness of telehealth and RPM in managing COVID-19 symptoms. Healthcare providers are now utilizing these tools to monitor patients who are not yet symptomatic, as well as those who are recovering from the virus.
One way providers have been able to increase bed utilization during the pandemic is by working across different departments and organizations to identify, enroll, and monitor COVID-19 patients. Another way providers are increasing utilization is by diverting non-COVID patients from hospital, critical care, skilled nursing, and other departments to receive care and recover at home. This has resulted in an increase in the number of patients receiving telehealth care and an expansion of the patient populations deemed eligible for care.
Specifically, HRS partners saw a significant increase in the use of telehealth and RPM for oncology, pediatric, dialysis, and sepsis patients, to name a few. The decreased need for in-person visits, improved patient outcomes, and cost savings are some of the benefits that healthcare providers are reaping from implementing telehealth.
3. Consumerization of Healthcare
As the industry moves towards the consumerization of healthcare, patients are increasingly transitioning into consumers. This is evident in the widespread adoption of technologies such as telehealth, which provide patients with more control and flexibility in their care. In addition, patients are becoming more engaged in their own health, taking an active role in managing their own conditions and seeking out information to make informed decisions about their care.
This trend is likely to continue as patients become more comfortable with using technology to manage their health. As a result, this heightened competition will spur health systems and insurance payers to adopt new tools and technologies at a faster pace.
Mental health disorders have been on the rise since the pandemic of COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 93% of countries worldwide reported disruptions in mental health services. This has caused a significant increase in depression and anxiety due to lockdowns, isolations, and the fear of the unknown.
To circumvent this, healthcare providers had to quickly pivot and offer telehealth as an option to continue therapy sessions. There are a number of advantages to this approach. First, it allows patients to receive care from specialists who may not be available in their local area. Second, it can be more convenient and comfortable for patients than traditional face-to-face therapy. Finally, teletherapy is often less expensive than in-person therapy, making it more accessible to a wider range of people.
AI,Data, & Analytics
Artificial intelligence (AI), data, and analytics are trends that have been shifting the way businesses work, and it's no different for the healthcare sector. The basis of how these tools help is to enhance clinical diagnostics and decision making rather than reduce clinician need.
AI can help practitioners diagnose patients more quickly and accurately by identifying correlations between symptoms and conditions. This not only increases efficiency, but also provides quantitative and qualitative data that can improve accuracy in early detection and treatment.
While these tools are typically used for major diseases and on a larger scale, telehealth works like AI but on a smaller scale. It provides healthcare practitioners with the information they need to make decisions around patient care, resulting in prevention of high-risk situations while reducing hospital readmissions.
Value-based care is a proactive concept that aims to keep healthcare costs down (for both the payers and providers) by focusing on quality and patient outcomes.
While several barriers still stand in the way of fully implementing value-based care, RPM can address most of these barriers—meaning it can improve your facility’s ability to provide value-based care and lower your operating costs in the long run.
With the value-based care model on the rise, the adoption of telehealth and RPM can help to further establish the model as an essential part of your facility or as a stepping point to begin your journey to value-based care.
The Digital Front Door
The digital front door provides patients with quality care by allowing providers and patients to coordinate efforts on behalf of the patient. Bypassing barriers, such as distance or scheduling conflicts, provides ease and convenience for all parties involved.
Patients and providers benefit from a streamlined and personalized experience. By integrating a variety of data sources, it is an efficient way for healthcare systems to interact with patients and tailor each interaction to their specific needs. This allows for more effective treatment, continuous care, and recovery planning.
Telehealth in a Post-Pandemic World: Why it's More Important Than Ever
Telehealth has the potential to revolutionize how healthcare is delivered while helping reduce costs and improving quality of care and access to care. Find out all you need to know about telehealth in our ultimate guide to telehealth technology.