COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting financial loss effects on healthcare providers, but leveraging some of the capabilities developed to adjust and continuously provide service to patients during this pandemic can build more strong and smooth revenue cycle management for the healthcare industry. Telehealth is one of the biggest changes that came out of the pandemic crisis. Let’s discuss telehealth during and after the pandemic crisis.
More than 8.5+ million Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), with a weekly jump in virtual visits from 13,000+ pre-pandemic to almost 1.7+ million in April.
According to July 15 Health Affairs, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, points to the rapid acceptance of connected health use from March 17 through June 30, spurred by the crisis and state and federal efforts to relax telehealth rules to encourage adoption. It also comes as healthcare providers await information from CMS as to how these temporary measures might be made permanent.
According to law, Medicare can only pay for such telehealth services in limited circumstances, such as when the person receiving the services in a proper remote area and if they leave their home and visit clinic, hospital, or certain other types of medical facilities for the telehealth services. A telehealth service must use an audio and video telecommunications system that gives real-time access to communication between patient and provider who is remotely providing treatment.
According to that data, compiled from Medicare FFS claims:
- Some 22% of telehealth beneficiaries in rural areas used telehealth during that time frame, while 30% of urban beneficiaries sought virtual care;
- More than 35% of beneficiaries in the Northeast – specifically, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland – used telehealth, compared to less than 17% telehealth use among beneficiaries in Nebraska, Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas;
- One-quarter of all-male beneficiaries accessed telehealth during the time period, while 30% of female beneficiaries used it;
- Some 34% of people between below age 65 used telehealth, a higher rate than those between the ages of 65 and 74 (25%) and 75 and 84 (29%), as well as those over 85 (28%);
- Some 28% of people identifying themselves as white access telehealth, while 25% of Asians, 29% of Blacks, 27% of Hispanics and 26% of those identifying as “other” used connected health;
- Roughly 34% of dual-eligible beneficiaries used telehealth, compared to 26% of those only on Medicare, with use spread evenly over racial and ethnic groups;
- The most common form of connected health visit was the evaluation and management (E/M) visit, used by nearly 5.8 million beneficiaries, and 38% of those visits conducted on a telemedicine platform;
- Some 460,000 beneficiaries received telemental health care during this time;
- Some 26% of beneficiaries received nursing home visits via telehealth;
- Roughly 19% of the 1.5 million beneficiaries who access preventive health services during this time period used telehealth; and
- More than 3 million beneficiaries access care through an audio-only phone, roughly one-third of the total number using telehealth during this time.
Telehealth has been a lifeline for hospitals faced with declining volumes and subsequently revenues. But with communities starting to reopen in the face of declining COVID-19 numbers, in-person volumes are slowly creeping back up, begging the question: Will telehealth be just a pandemic resource?
Telehealth has become a lifeline for hospitals and other healthcare providers who were facing issues of declining volumes and subsequently revenues. But with communities starting to reopen in the face of declining COVID19 numbers, in-person volumes are slowly getting to normal. Will telehealth be just a pandemic resource?
Hospitals are not accepting that telehealth will be just a pandemic resource. According to Coule, “COVID-19 has been the ultimate burning platform. Physicians, nurses, administrators, finance people, everybody involved had an immediate pressing need to change the way we were doing business and delivering care. And everybody once they did it went, ‘Gosh, why don’t I do this more often?’ Suddenly, we couldn’t meet the demand for expanding telemedicine quickly enough.”
Telehealth can rebuild clinical capacity even after the pandemic and it has the capability to become an important tool in the healthcare industry. But permanent telehealth solutions totally depend on payer policies and how the government is supporting this in the future.