Telehealth has been a topic of discussion for decades in healthcare. While innovators in medicine and technology have long promoted the advantages of telehealth, remote visits have been slow to take off. However, telehealth has become a “silver lining” of the COVID-19 crisis, and the market has made decades of progress in a very short time. With Medicare and US states seeking to embed telemedicine in the healthcare system, what does this mean for patients and providers?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare has implemented several changes supporting telehealth programs. It has removed a few procedural obstacles to the use of telehealth in ongoing care management and supervision, patient assessments, and home visits. This has created an opportunity for providers to deliver a wide range of health services to Medicare patients remotely. The results have been dramatic. In April 2020, nearly half (43.5 percent) of Medicare primary care visits were provided through telehealth, compared with less than 1 percent in February.
The move to telehealth creates opportunities for improved revenue generation and reduced costs for most providers, while improving patient outcomes and satisfaction. Market analysts suggest that the response to coronavirus will stimulate a remarkable growth rate of 40 percent in the telemedicine market through 2023.
Telehealth becomes a permanent feature
There’s a clear direction of travel. While initially temporary in nature, regulatory changes in restrictions and reimbursement to support telehealth are quickly gaining more permanence. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently announced that 60 of the 144 telehealth services offered during the COVID-19 pandemic will become permanent. This trend is also emerging at the state level.
Several US states are looking to maintain at least some of this momentum, even after most citizens are vaccinated. For example, my home state of Massachusetts recently passed a bill to extend support for remote visits indefinitely and is requiring health payers doing business in the state to reimburse such visits in the same way they do for in-person care.
Legislation like this creates a significant incentive for providers to ramp up their telehealth programs for the growing number of patients seeking remote care and consultations. The Massachusetts bill applies to both primary and behavioral care. Its purpose is to improve patient access to care, improve patient outcomes and reduce overall costs.
Massachusetts joins Texas and Florida in providing clear support for telehealth, both in terms of reimbursements and standards of practice. Many other states have adopted new reimbursement provisions on a temporary basis.
There is also a general movement toward increasing reciprocity among state licensure authorities and reducing barriers to providing care across state lines. States have broadly embraced the idea that the important factors in care delivery revolve around meeting the medical standard of care and the clinical quality of service — not the location of the physician or patient.
As the market matures, we can expect to see a more accepting environment at all regulatory levels for broad-based telehealth services. Regulators will focus on standardizing reimbursement practices and improving licensure reciprocity while setting new guidelines that ensure compliance with medical standards of care and clinical quality.
The benefits of telehealth for patients and providers
Broadening adoption of telehealth capabilities offers a number of near-term advantages for healthcare providers. Telehealth has enabled providers to continue seeing patients with chronic conditions, helping to support better disease management and improved outcomes. Occupational therapy and behavioral health programs have also benefited from a move to virtual delivery.
For patients with chronic disease management needs, telehealth provides a significant improvement in satisfaction and engagement. This is something both patients and providers will want to preserve after the pandemic.
Putting a telehealth strategy in place is critically important for providers that want to succeed in the future. Patients and physicians will continue to push for broader adoption. Health outcomes will improve through more successful disease management programs and greater compliance. Healthcare delivery will benefit from the virtual connection of geographically distant specialists to patients. Service levels will improve. The economic benefits — especially to value-based care organizations — will be significant.
Preparing for a telehealth future
Providers need to consider how they are going to build out their telehealth capabilities. Ultimately, supporting a telehealth deployment requires data, intelligence and a strong focus on the patient and provider experience. This must be delivered in a secure and compliant manner. OpenText™ can help with content, intelligence and experience tools and technologies designed to accelerate telehealth deployments and healthcare digital transformation.
OpenText has a range of solutions designed to accelerate digital transformation, enhance mobile patient engagement and deliver highly secure content management. Visit our website to learn more about our healthcare solutions.