Emerging Trends During COVID-19 and the “New Normal”
Telehealth has been a vital piece of the healthcare puzzle since before the COVID-19 crisis, but as providers and patients settle into their routines as part of the new normal it has become increasingly evident that telehealth services are here to stay. Telehealth had been gaining in popularity before the outbreak, but there was no real motivation to make the shift when, for many patients, an in-person visit was a viable, and familiar, option. Now, though, regardless of their convenience, telehealth visits are the preferred way to receive care because of how much safer they are than traditional in-office appointments. For providers, the expansion of telehealth has allowed them to continue providing high-quality care to their patient populations from a remote setting. The following five truths of telehealth have emerged in these past few weeks and will hopefully serve as guiding principles for further expanding telehealth beyond its use during COVID-19.
- Providers and patients alike are adapting to and embracing telehealth.
Initially, there were concerns that patients would not use telehealth services. There were fears that if patients began missing regular medical services en masse, large numbers of individuals would end up in the hospital due to health issues that could have been lessened or prevented by regular access to care. While this has been the case to a degree, a significant number of patients have taken to using telehealth services. Patients of all ages have adapted to and now expect telehealth services from their providers.
- Top telehealth programs are those that allow providers to “see” their own patients.
Telehealth is an excellent tool to ensure continuity of care. In the past, telehealth services have been utilized by providers in settings such as immediate care clinics. While convenient, patients were unlikely to see their own primary care provider (PCP). Now that telehealth is so widespread, patients have the additional assurance of connecting with their own PCP. Seeing and hearing a familiar face and voice goes a long way to reassuring patients that the care they are receiving takes into consideration their medical history and long-term outcomes.
- Telehealth increases access to care regardless of patient location.
Access to healthcare has long been an issue for those who live in rural settings and under-served urban areas. In the past, these barriers have been too challenging to overcome for some patients, and they forego necessary care. The expansion and adoption of telehealth will help eliminate location as a barrier to healthcare, increasing the equity of health outcomes across the nation.
- Telehealth services must be HIPAA-compliant.
The security of patient data is the most crucial component of a successful telehealth system. It is vital that every provider and healthcare entity that initiates a telehealth program does so using a HIPAA-compliant platform to ensure the safety of their patient’s personal information. Recently, the federal government expanded the list of telehealth platforms that are HIPAA-compliant, some of which are detailed here, and CMS has published a “list of services payable under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule when furnished via telehealth” (cms.gov), accessible here.
- Specialists can reap the benefits of telehealth, too.
As more and more primary care providers utilize telehealth to connect with their patients, specialists are realizing its benefits and applications as well. Specialties such as dermatology, optometry, and therapy and counseling, among others, have all seen success in providing patient care through telehealth platforms. The continuity of not only general primary care but specialty care as well will help to ensure that patients maintain stable general health throughout this period of uncertainty.
Innovista Health Solutions is a population health management company that offers management and support services to guide independent physician networks, medical groups, and health systems through the ever-changing landscape of value-based care. With services and toolsets including network development, population health management, delegated services, data reporting, and strategic capital investments, Innovista is structured to help its clients succeed in their Commercial, Medicare, and Medicaid value programs. Innovista is a single resource for physician integrated models to gain access to innovative technology, expert programs, actionable data insights, financial resources, and growth opportunities, to navigate and succeed in value-based and/or risk-based contracts.
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