By Dr. Jason Hallock, MD, chief medical officer, SOC Telemed.
On March 13, President Trump declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic a national emergency. The declaration opens more than $42 billion in federal funding to combat the virus by expanding resources in key areas, including telehealth across the nation. While COVID-19 is novel there’s nothing new about telehealth solutions that are now moving to the forefront care in light of this virus.
Funding will support an increase in COVID-19 testing and expand telehealth services to virtually care for patients. HHS can waive licensing regulations to allow out-of-state physicians to treat patients via telehealth wherever outbreaks occur. And, critically, the declaration of emergency allows for $500 million in Medicare waivers for telehealth restrictions.
The action comes at a critical moment, as the U.S. health care system is confronted for the first time in its modern history with the possibility of a hospital capacity crisis. If too many COVID-19 positive cases descend on our hospitals at once, we could be in the unenviable position of lacking the onsite equipment, the beds, tests, staff and other resources to provide life-saving care for all. Such dark medical realities are already true elsewhere in the world.
As the contents of the national emergency declaration show, telemedicine is poised to play a key role in the fight against COVID-19. It’s not by accident.
While the virus spread rapidly to pandemic status, the reality is that the healthcare industry long anticipated the possibility of a fast-spreading global contagion. As we in the industry planned for the possibility of such an event, telemedicine was always among the solutions.
The role of telemedicine in the time of a pandemic is not an experiment or for use in a limited trial—it’s actively being used to treat COVID-19 today. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to urge doctors and hospitals first to assess potentially infected patients remotely whenever possible, and to care for patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms from home using virtual check-ins.