Health Experts Are Making Sure Telehealth Is Here to Stay
Posted by Sean Timm
From the moment the federal government instituted a state of emergency for the pandemic, Telehealth has been front and center. Allowing physicians to continue providing care to scared patients, virtual visits and other telemedicine techniques have become a cornerstone of the pandemic response for practices around the country. Now health experts are working to keep it that way.
By June, the American Medical Association (AMA) estimated Telehealth usage had increased anywhere from 50 to 175 times its pre-pandemic amount. While more patients are delaying care, clinics of every size are turning to the latest technology to keep their patients healthy and keep revenue flowing.
Even as the coronavirus continues to spread, debates have already started about making sure the valuable strides in Telehealth adoption aren’t for nothing.
Telehealth Is the Key to a New Standard of Care
The same way online banking didn’t eliminate the need for banks but instead empowered people to take a more direct role in their finances, Telehealth is the next step for patient care. That is, at least according to Jeremy Gabrysch, M.D., a former emergency room physician who is now the CEO of Remedy, a technology-focused urgent health care company in Austin, Texas.
Speaking with Medical Economics, Dr. Gabrysch explains, “We should really rethink, in light of our access to technology, what the standard of care looks like with these new connected devices with virtual meetings.”
In terms of Remedy’s remote activities, “What we’ve seen is that we’re able to resolve about seven out of 10 cases virtually. And it really kind of opens your mind to the prospect that there’s probably a huge opportunity for Telehealth here, much bigger than what we even realized.”
Dr. Gabrysch isn’t alone. As telemedicine becomes more broadly accepted throughout the healthcare industry, there is a growing emphasis on allowing physicians to discover new ways to use it. That was the very mentality behind the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) opening the list of possible covered Telehealth procedures for physician submissions.
“There is an opportunity for us to really change the way we deliver care,” Dr. Gabrysch continues, “and the way that we pay for care and actually the cost of care… If we really are open to adopting this more virtual approach, we will save so much money, and we will provide a better experience and will get better outcomes for patients.”
There Are Still Obstacles in the Way
As much promise as Telehealth displays, there are still a few hurdles the technology needs to overcome. From tackling the genuine questions of how to support rural clinics and patients, to concerns about keeping the recent regulatory changes in place, advocates are already hard at work.
Last month, in the run-up to a hearing about the lessons learned from telemedicine usage during the pandemic, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators signed a letter to Senate leadership calling for Telehealth support to continue. “Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of Telehealth,” the letter says, “and have come to rely on its availability. Congress should expand access to Telehealth services on a permanent basis so that Telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic.”
Such a move from CMS would push private insurers to follow suit, paving the way for continued Telehealth access.
Dr. Joe Kvedar, president of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), and a witness in the senate hearing, spoke further at the ATA2020 virtual conference, held in the weeks since. “We have successfully brought the doctor’s office into the home,” he said, acknowledging the significant gains the technology has made over the years and during the past few months.
Regardless, however, “We have a lot more work to do,” he said. “We have the opportunity to reimagine healthcare delivery.” According to Dr. Kvedar, this is only the beginning.
A Bright Future for Telehealth
Even before the pandemic, patients were heavily prioritizing convenience. Revealed in a CVS Health survey conducted in March, just as the reality of the pandemic was beginning to set in for most Americans, 92% of patients said convenience was important for their care.
Larry Merlo, chief executive officer of CVS Health, said, “Consumers are demanding convenience and ease in how they access health services. Technological solutions have the power to simplify health care and significantly expand the ways we deliver it.”
Plus, momentum is on the side of Telehealth. The AMA has reported that with the current adoption rates, Telehealth could mean that the healthcare industry avoids 20% of current emergency room visits. Likewise, 24% of health care office visits and outpatient volume could transition to the virtual space.
The AMA places the potential amount of Telehealth treatment at up to $250 billion of the current healthcare spend, roughly 20%.
Remote visits are nothing new, but we are currently seeing a dramatic shift in the foundations of healthcare and the doctor-patient relationship. It is more important than ever to ensure your practice has the secure, easy-to-use, HIPAA-compliant tools it needs to meet the changes head-on.