By Devin Partida, technology writer and the Editor-in-Chief of the digital magazine, ReHack.com
The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive changes around the world. As people adjust to the new normal, they may notice some differences associated with COVID-19 and telehealth. Here’s an in-depth look at those changes.
Telehealth adoption rising
United States government officials announced changes in mid-March that dramatically increased access to telehealth in the nation. The changes included allowing providers to use everyday technologies to connect with patients, offering more telehealth treatment coverage to Medicare beneficiaries and making such options available at lower costs than traditional appointments.
The increased access and provider flexibility are temporary, intended to remain only for the duration of the country’s health emergency. However, some people believe the changes could bode well for telehealth in general, such as by giving adoption of the technology a sustained boost.
Analysts at Frost & Sullivan predict a 64.3% year-over-year growth increase for the telehealth sector this year. The researchers mentioned the need for social distancing as a central factor influencing the surge. However, they cautioned that the telemedicine industry contains an ecosystem where numerous parties affect adoption rates and healthcare compliance standards.
Medical practices can increase income through telehealth visits
Many people avoid face-to-face treatments now due to the risk of virus transmission. However, even before COVID-19 became a threat, people faced other obstacles that made in-person care more complicated, such as a lack of transportation or mental health struggles that made them nervous in public.
Jason Popp, a partner at Alston and Bird’s healthcare litigation group, pointed out how making telehealth more accessible introduces more revenue streams for medical facilities: “When the pandemic started, physicians in practices were seeing big changes because they couldn’t see patients anymore.”
Popp continued, “Now they’re quickly adapting to the change. Otherwise, they’ve got limited revenue because patients aren’t coming to clinics or certain facilities. It’s been a bit of a wake-up call to practitioners who were previously kind of opposed to telehealth. Now they’re seeing there are immense benefits. After the pandemic, many will continue to provide telehealth.”
A temporary telehealth waiver connected to the coronavirus pandemic expands access to people beyond rural areas. Popp viewed that regulatory change as the most significant and hopes Congress will eventually make it permanent. Other parties familiar with telehealth say the sector is scaling up so rapidly that reverting to pre-COVID-19 healthcare compliance standards would prove difficult.
Staying abreast of telehealth compliance and coronavirus specifics
The coronavirus forced medical providers to change their processes concerning telehealth and otherwise. Regulatory compliance audits do not happen the same way as before, but they still occur. The parties getting or giving reviews may engage with some parts of the inspection virtually through teleconferencing platforms to maintain distance.
Another thing for medical facility representatives to stay mindful of — particularly regarding telehealth — is that there are state-based stipulations to follow. For example, the coronavirus prompted Florida officials to allow out-of-state physicians to administer care through telemedicine platforms while holding licenses elsewhere. Regulators in Kansas suspended a requirement mandating in-person exams before doctors dispense prescriptions.
These differences across state lines don’t mean medical providers can push ahead with providing care with telehealth technology and enjoy restriction-free experiences. They must instead become familiar with what the state-related changes are and how to abide by them.
The possibility for long-term changes
Telehealth supporters generally assert it improves access to care and enhances convenience, while detractors point out how it could risk confidentiality and increase fraud. However, something that became clear recently is that — regardless of people’s opinions about telehealth — the short-term regulatory changes could become permanent.
Analysts recognize that barriers to remote medicine remain, but so do the potential advantages. For example, more internet-delivered appointments could tackle a widespread shortage of mental health professionals and help people get the assistance they need regardless of location. As more lawmakers, medical facility directors and other persons in power see the benefits of telehealth during COVID-19, more may advocate for easing the regulations hindering this type of care.
Experts have suggested numerous changes that could make telehealth more accessible after the coronavirus. They include developing new, permanent policies about reimbursements and letting providers work across state lines and establishing a new privacy standard that facilitates flexible care options without compromising data privacy.
Making lasting alterations to the rules surrounding telemedicine requires an ongoing effort from people with unified goals. It remains unclear whether such action will happen persistently once the U.S. emerges from the worst of the pandemic.
Hope on the horizon
COVID-19 and telehealth are two hot topics now, and the latter benefits from temporarily loosened regulations. The rapid uptick in telemedicine services may cause lasting changes in heathcare compliance standards. If that happens, people may have more freedom to give or get care via the internet.