Telehealth – the practice of using technology such as video and phone calls to allow for long-distance health care – is not new, but has certainly become more prevalent during recent times. In an effort to stay safe and socially distanced, many have turned to telemedicine to discuss their health problems with their primary healthcare providers, as well as with specialists.
“Sadly, we are in the midst of a resurgence of COVID-19, this surge is just as if not more challenging than the original in the spring and taxes all essential workers, but most of all our health care systems and workers. we are going to discuss how our innovative health care systems and providers pivoted during COVID, used technology, and took care of so many of us through telehealth services,” Teri Ooms, executive director at The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University, said.
Some of the key changes that have been made to telehealth services following the COVID-19 outbreak include:
- restrictions have been removed to allow Medicare providers to offer telehealth services to beneficiaries regardless of geographic location, and for patients to access telehealth from their home. Previously, telehealth services were only available on a limited basis to Medicare beneficiaries in designated rural areas and from certain health care facilities;
- Rural Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers are allowed to provide services via telehealth instead of in-person;
- more services can be provided via telehealth than before, including emergency department visits, initial nursing facility and discharge visits, critical care services, home visits for new and established patients, and physical therapy services;
- clinicians may provide virtual services to new patients instead of only those with which they had an established relationship;
- physicians may practice across state lines during the pandemic to treat Medicare patients virtually, even if not licensed in the patient’s state; and,
- reimbursement for audio-only visits is now approved.
Telehealth services do have some drawbacks, however. Many systems require the patient to have access to a smartphone, tablet, or computer with a webcam and speakers, as well as high-speed internet capabilities. Additionally, the patient must take the phone call inside state lines of the state in which they are a resident. Technology, cross state licensing, and insurance continue to provide challenges that must be faced in future.