Pandemic Growth and Retraction of Telehealth Use

We have been hearing about the surge of telehealth use and adopted by patients during the Coronavirus pandemic. Few sources identified that this increase was 8000 percent from last year. According to recent a survey by Decision Resources Group, as of July 2020 – 80 percent of all U.S. physicians used for a virtual patient visit, up from 39 percent in April and just 9 percent in March.

This trend likely signifies more multi-modal care delivery post-pandemic, with physicians making more use of video visits, emails, and phone calls with patients as a means of accompanying traditional in-person visits. In a survey, the DRG group mentioned that “Among those physicians surveyed in June and July who said they had conducted virtual consultations in the past three months, 52% said they will likely continue to do so after COVID-19 mitigation measures have ended.”

Now the situation is different as the patients are able to return to providers’ offices and clinics throughout the country. What is the current state of telehealth?

Support from Government to Telehealth

August Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump has permanently expanded some services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for rural areas.

“Today I’m taking action to ensure is here to stay,” President Trump said during a press conference Monday evening. “I signed the executive order to make some of our regulatory reforms permanent

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recommending some services provisionally approved for telehealth during the Coronavirus pandemic be permanently added to the approved Medicare telehealth services list. Almost all other services which were on the temporary list also were executed through the calendar year in which the coronavirus pandemic ends. These changes included in the Proposed 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.

Cyberattacks Risk for Telehealth

Cyberattacks on telehealth platforms are growing. According to Healthcare Drive’s Rebecca Pifer, security alerts sent to IT staff at 148 of the most popular telehealth applications and found they jumped 30% for the period March through April this year, compared to the pre-COVID period of September 2019 through February 2020.

Pifer further explained, “In the starkest difference, the healthcare industry overall saw a 77% decrease in IP reputation security alerts caused by malware infections, part of successful phishing attempts or other attacks. The same incidents in telehealth vendors jumped 117%, suggesting cybercriminals moved away from targeting healthcare organization networks in favor of third-party supply chain vendors instead.”

OIG Work Plan

The office of Inspector General added two reviews of telehealth to its work plan. These two simultaneous reviews will be based on Medicare Parts B and C data and will observe the use of telehealth services in Medicare during the coronavirus pandemic situation.

The first review is all about that to examine the usage of telehealth services by Medicare beneficiaries. How the use of these services compared to the use of the same services delivered while face-to-face, and how many different types of providers and beneficiaries are using telehealth services.

The second review will identify program integrity risk with Medicare telehealth service to make sure their appropriate use and reimbursement during the coronavirus pandemic situation.

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