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.
From robotic surgery to telehealth, digital advances are driving innovation in all areas of healthcare, a trend that can be expected to accelerate during and after this era of pandemic-caused isolation.
We see dramatic changes in these areas: (1) Sensors and wearables; (2) Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality; (3), 3D printing; (4) AI driving analytics, automation, and robotics and; (5) The rise of chatbot. In fact, we are already experiencing the impact of the coronavirus isolation in some areas, such as telehealth and 3D printing.
On the grand scale, robots have been proven to be more precise than surgeons and AI can diagnose cancers with a success rate of 99%. In 2020 cost pressures –compounded by the coronavirus initiative- and regulatory change will act as the major catalysts for digital health treatments, which have a crucial role to play in delivering effective, fast, and cost-efficient patient care.
For instance, the pandemic isolation combined with digital health advances are helping shift care to be based around people’s homes.
Local care is not just more convenient and less stressful for patients, it also makes financial sense, when you consider the average hospital stay in the US is upwards of $10,000, totaling over $1 trillion annually in hospital services, and that 60 percent of all bankruptcies in the US are related to medical expenses.
The transformation of traditional value systems in healthcare will continue to accelerate as patients increasingly become better-informed health “consumers”. Thanks to digital, the “value pool” is shifting in this industry, resulting in cost savings for patients thanks to better system efficiency. 2020 will also see the introduction of standalone 5G, which will enable the adoption of an almost limitless number of applications involving AI, big data and the IoT. Many healthcare-related high-bandwidth projects will be set free by 5G’s connectivity, bringing therapies from within hospitals into the field.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March, has provided a lifeline for many businesses — including healthcare organizations. Amid the grim reality of medical equipment shortages and limited hospital beds, the CARES Act provides the healthcare industry much-needed relief.
Considering a significant number of practices are struggling to keep their doors open, and hospitals have experienced significant revenue loss from elective procedures being cancelled or postponed, the act has been pivotal in providing critical aid.
However, at over 800 pages, understanding the full impact of the act can be challenging. Below, I’m sharing how the CARES Act can benefit healthcare providers, as well as additional steps medical practices can take today to ensure the financial security of their organizations.
What You Need to Know About the PPP
By now, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been in place for a few weeks, and many healthcare practices with fewer than 500 employees have likely already submitted their applications. Whether you’ve already applied for the PPP or are weighing your options, here is some need-to-know information to consider.
At its core, the PPP gives businesses an incentive to keep their staff employed. Funds dispersed from this program can be used to cover up to eight weeks of payroll costs and other eligible expenses, such as rent, utilities and mortgage interest. This loan can provide practices with the necessary funds they need to keep their staff employed and continue serving their communities.
While the initial funding for the PPP from the CARES Act quickly ran out, another law passed in April 2020 provided another welcome injection of funding in the program.
Gloomy facts about healthcare costs in the US became even scarier for the US residents when the pandemic knocked on their doors. It’s almost unbelievable to think that $2.16 billion was spent on hospital care and medical professionals.
If we take into consideration that the money doesn’t come from the rising demand for healthcare services and larger employability, but derives from high costs of services, it’s no wonder that the coronavirus brought America’s healthcare to its knees.
Furthermore, heart disease and diabetes are the most common diseases in the States. These two diseases account for 85% of all costs in American healthcare as they are time-consuming, difficult, and expensive to treat on a day to day basis.
By Vikram Savkar, vice president and general manager of the medical segment, Wolters Kluwer’s Health Learning, Research, and Practice business.
The COVID-19 crisis has placed a burden upon every aspect of our society. But nowhere is the burden more immediate and urgent than across the hospital sector. As the number of patients requiring critical care in a short period of time grows into the hundreds of thousands and perhaps beyond, clinicians are confronted with the mission of handling a challenge whose scale far exceeds our standing capacity.
The medical community is rising to that challenge with personal heroism. Every city and town has stories of clinicians who are prepared to work around the clock, despite having inadequate supplies and a high possibility of contracting the very disease that they are treating. If there was ever a time when the average person took their community’s medical infrastructure for granted, that time has now passed.
We will always, those of us who are living through this period, remember the many healthcare professionals and first responders providing COVID-19 care who “ran toward the fire,” as the saying goes, when the rest of us did our part and remained locked away from it. I am hopeful that we will come through this crisis stronger, as the many lessons learned from this pandemic are addressed by health systems, hospitals, and governments.
And in fact the disruptions of COVID-19 at present extend even beyond our hospitals to every other aspect of the medical world as well, including medical schools. Some of these disruptions are temporary, some long-lasting.
Since my company, Wolters Kluwer, works closely with most of the medical schools in the U.S. as well as in many global markets through our digital and textbook solutions, and we are in daily touch with most of them to help them navigate through this turbulence, we have insight into what these changes may be.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down. It has claimed thousands of lives and affected millions of others. Now, the general masses are simply worried that they may catch the virus. This situation is unprecedented, and it has challenged our existence. Then, it resulted in a lock down, which confined everyone in their own homes. People across the globe have been dealing with the effects of lock down, both physical and psychological.
This situation stresses the need for our safety and of those around us. Since the beginning, the emphasis is on how we can protect ourselves. Doctors and medical experts have been advising people on the use of safety gear and precautions. They are urging them to stay indoors and care for themselves and their families. All of this revolves around one requirement; to avoid contracting the virus.
So, the question that arises here is, what steps to take to avert a virus? But let us not worry about it, but ponder upon the safety measures. In this article, we will elaborate on all the safety tips to help you be safe. Once you conclude this write-up, you will know what to do. So, let’s start.
The first reason for any infection is due to a lack of knowledge. Since we hear and discover so many diseases, we tend to confuse them with each other. For instance, many people who caught the coronavirus initially did not know clearly about it. Sometimes, we fall prey to disease as we think it might not affect us at all. However, the fact is, it does. And, when that happens, we end up putting everything at stake. So, it is a must to get adequate and relevant knowledge. For this purpose, you can use any digital resource of your choice.
For the past month or more, doctors in the US have had their hands full with the rapid onset and spread of the coronavirus. Affecting thousands of citizens each day, it’s all hands on deck to try to treat patients in need.
With an increased attention on patients suffering from this deadly virus, however, many doctors worry about their non-coronavirus patients. From those fighting off the flu or some other virus to those with preexisting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, lots of people aren’t getting the care they should be.
Some patients are afraid to come forward out of fear they’ll contract COVID-19, others hold off on contacting their doctor to avoid taking up precious time or available hospital beds for those they feel are in greater need right now. In any event, the concern is that there could be a lot of people out there suffering in silence. If you run a healthcare practice and have some of these same concerns, know that there are some effective solutions to help you treat and support your non-COVID-19 patients.
Many healthcare facilities across the country have implemented telehealth options. It is a digital platform that allows medical professionals to provide care and treatment to their patients remotely. Not only can this type of platform be instrumental in helping you to pre-screen potential COVID-19 patients, but it can be used to help non-coronavirus patients as well.
Advising your patients to utilize this application when in need of medical attention allows you to meet with the patient virtually and assess their health status. You can prescribe medication, provide self-care tips to treat their problem at home, or, if necessary, advise them to get to a healthcare facility or hospital for immediate attention. This prevents them from coming in the office unnecessarily (saving thousands of lives), but still provides them with an option to get medical care if they need to.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has delivered near $34 billion in the past week to the healthcare providers on the frontlines battling the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The funds have been provided through the expansion of the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program to ensure providers and suppliers have the resources needed to combat the pandemic.
“Healthcare providers are making massive financial sacrifices to care for the influx of coronavirus patients,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Many are rightly complying with federal recommendations to delay non-essential elective surgeries to preserve capacity and personal protective equipment. They shouldn’t be penalized for doing the right thing. Amid a public health storm of unprecedented fury, these payments are helping providers and suppliers – so critical to defeating this terrible virus – stay afloat.”
The streamlined process implemented by CMS for COVID-19 has reduced processing times for a request of an accelerated or advance payment to between four to six days, down from the previous timeframe of three to four weeks. In a little over a week, CMS has received over 25,000 requests from health care providers and suppliers for accelerated and advance payments and have already approved over 17,000 of those requests in the last week. Prior to COVID-19, CMS had approved just over 100 total requests in the past five years, with most being tied to natural disasters such as hurricanes.
The payments are available to Part A providers, including hospitals, and Part B suppliers, including doctors, non-physician practitioners and durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers. While most of these providers and suppliers can receive three months of their Medicare reimbursements, certain providers can receive up to six months.
The CMS Accelerated and Advance Payment Program is funded from the Hospital Insurance (Part A) and Supplementary Medical Insurance (Part B) trust funds, which are the same fund used to pay out Medicare claims each day. The advance and accelerated payments are a loan that providers must pay back. CMS will begin to apply claims payments to offset the accelerated/advance payments 120 days after disbursement.
The majority of hospitals including inpatient acute care hospitals, children’s hospitals, certain cancer hospitals, and critical access hospitals will have up to one year from the date the accelerated payment was made to repay the balance. All other Part A providers and Part B suppliers will have up to 210 days to complete repayment of accelerated and advance payments, respectively.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on healthcare at home providers’ ability to see or care for patients, and the much-publicized lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a very real issue, according to findings of a survey conducted by healthcare technology leader Axxess.
More than 80 percent of respondents said the virus has had an impact on their organization’s ability to see or care for patients, and three-fourths of respondents said they do not have adequate PPE for staff.
The survey of thousands of home-based care providers from organizations of all sizes from March 25-30 confirmed that agencies have a critical need for PPE, including N95 masks, gloves, face masks, gowns and hand sanitizer.”
In addition, billing or cash flow has been interrupted for nearly 60 percent of respondents’ organizations, and more than half of respondents indicated their organization has experienced staffing challenges as an impact of the virus.
“Understanding how challenged providers are at this uncertain time, we appreciate everyone who took the time to help provide visibility into the needs of the industry,” said John Olajide, founder and CEO of Axxess. “Our brief survey was designed to give a voice to our heroes on the frontlines of caring for those most vulnerable to coronavirus.”
The survey, which included respondents from all levels of organizations, including management and caregivers directly working with patients and clients, showed nearly half of respondents have a negative view of coronavirus’ (COVID-19) eventual impact on their business.
The long-term impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the industry is less certain, with about a third of respondents feeling it would ultimately be positive, a third feeling it would be negative and about a third having neutral feelings.
“I am incredibly proud to be part of such a caring community,” Olajide said. “We can’t know how long this crisis will last, but it should be reassuring to all of us that we are all working together and demonstrating leadership, providing expertise, displaying innovation and sharing resources.”
The Trump administration temporarily changed the policy for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) allowing healthcare providers to have phone-only visits with patients, which is a major breakthrough in the industry and one that was not allowed before.
With the coronavirus being spread throughout the United States, the administration understands the importance of social distancing and the pivotal role that telehealth will play in keeping patients healthy. What is necessary to support the amount of patients today is an economically sustainable, scalable and immediate telecare solution that is available to anyone, regardless of income, age, or location.
The way to keep the general population healthy, is in a fight to flatten the curve and protect most specifically older adults and those at-risk from COVID-19. Telehealth is likely the most effective way to provide care to those who need it and minimize exposure to the virus for the both the patient and the doctor. Right now the hospital systems are overwhelmed with the sudden influx of patients from this virus and telecare’s primary role is to treat patients remotely, reducing the pressure being put on the hospital systems.
Another important factor is the effects that social isolation has placed on older adults and how that will impact their overall physical and mental well-being. We created Uniper to provide a familiar service for older adults, right on their TV screens, mobile phone or desktop to have access to life: their communities, friends, family and physicians so that they can obtain much needed care, from a distance.
Uniper is designed to be economically sustainable, scalable, and accessible to anyone that needs it to help them thrive during these unusual times.