Using Telehealth in Response to COVID-19

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a novel coronavirus that has not been previously identified. Symptoms include cough, difficulty breathing, fever, and mild to severe respiratory illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus currently seems to be easily spreading throughout communities in the United States (community spread), meaning “some people have been infected and it is not known how or where they became exposed”.

What is Telehealth?

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.

Telehealth can address COVID-19 and other epidemic situations by limiting exposure to infection for vulnerable populations and health care workers. Telehealth can also expand the reach of resources to communities that have limited access to needed services. This allows patients to receive health services away from settings where the potential for contracting COVID-19 is high, such as hospitals, health clinic waiting rooms, private practices, etc.

Using Telehealth in Response to COVID-19

Monitoring Symptoms

Telehealth can be used to identify potential and confirmed mild/ moderate cases without person-to-person contact. Phone screening, virtual visits, and remote patient monitoring (RPM) data can help guide providers and patients in deciding when to escalate a case. While telehealth can help reduce exposures, reduce Emergency Department visits, and enable remote monitoring of symptoms, it does have limitations. There are certain procedures that would still need to take place in-person. For example, patients would still need to be physically present for the collection of samples for laboratory testing and imaging. Another example would be nurses, who are in frequent contact with inpatients and need to physically administer medications, hook up IVs, etc.

Caring for Inpatients

Healthcare providers at all levels of a care team (nutritionists, respiratory therapists, physicians, nurses, etc.) can easily check-in on admitted patients and monitor their conditions. Although live-video is the most common use of telehealth for inpatient care, RPM can also be crucial in effective inpatient treatment of COVID-19 while preventing provider-to-patient contact. For example, a recent study examines the benefits of a low-cost breath analyzer module that remotely monitors chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients.

While further efforts are needed to verify the reliability and robustness of data transmission via telemedicine, the RPM technology offers the unique opportunity to monitor patient health non-invasively. Similarly, this technology could be widely used in an inpatient COVID-19 environment where quality care can be provided without contact and reduces the risk for health providers, patients, and caregivers.

Providing Healthcare Remotely

In an outpatient setting, telehealth allows providers to remotely monitor patients that are self-quarantined at their homes. This can greatly reduce capacity in several healthcare settings by addressing mild cases remotely and again, reducing unnecessary exposure to the healthcare workforce.

In the event of larger quarantines, health providers can still be in contact with patients to regularly monitor their condition and refer to additional treatment as appropriate. This is especially important, as healthcare providers can offer guidance remotely to caretakers at-home and other on-the-field healthcare providers. Additionally, treating patients who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 but still require interaction with their health care providers for their condition via telehealth, can limit their exposure to areas where there is greater opportunity to come into contact with COVID-19.

Other Provider Benefits

Healthcare workers are constantly exposed to COVID-19, which could lead to a workforce shortage among healthcare providers if they fall into quarantine. This article published in 2020 highlights organizations that used existing telehealth infrastructures to have quarantined doctors to treat patients. Those with established telehealth programs have allowed quarantined providers to treat patients, ensuring the safety of both parties. Telehealth has shown to be an invaluable tool, providing methods for quarantined providers to safely treat patients.

Researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) found that telemedicine platforms can help reduce re-hospitalization in COPD. The study focused on a 12-week pulmonary rehabilitation program that was delivered in patients’ homes, via telehealth, resulting in a significant decrease in re-hospitalization, reduced patient costs, and improved clinical outcomes. In recent news, it has been reported that respiratory complications may occur in recovered COVID-19 patients. Applying similar COPD telehealth tactics could prove to be beneficial for discharged patients.

There are other types of technology that can be utilized to support COVID-19 respiratory treatment. A study in 2018 examines the potential for digital technology to improve adherence and personalization for patients with respiratory diseases. Technology such as electronic inhalers, text messaging, and self-management tools was used to measure improvement in patient outcomes. The technology-assisted patients by reminding them to practice regular therapeutic techniques, a method that can also be adopted for recovering COVID-19 patients

Visit our blog section for more billing resources on COVID-19 and Telehealth Services. These resources will help you to prepare your practice and address patient concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. To get reimbursed for medical services rendered during COVID-19 pandemic, contact Medical Billers and Coders (MBC) at 888-357-3226/