This week we’re celebrating Telehealth Awareness Week. Telehealth has undoubtedly provided significant value to patients and providers throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). Many hope that telehealth will continue to play an important role in healthcare well beyond the emergency caused by the pandemic.
Telehealth technology provides health care providers, staff, and patients a way to collaborate without being in the same location. One of the early uses of telehealth technology nationwide was to provide healthcare access to remote rural populations. The PHE brought telehealth into the mainstream. Regardless of location, patients began to consult with physicians and other health care providers remotely.
The long-term use of telehealth across health care specialties remains to be seen, but several factors may influence its longevity:
- Public and commercial payors have updated reimbursement policies for telehealth visits during the PHE. Some states are making the temporary rules that allow providers to be reimbursed at the same rates as for in-person visits during the PHE permanent.
- Many patients prefer the convenience of a telehealth visit for appropriate interactions and may increase routine care visits if offers via a telehealth platform.
- Some patients are too ill or lack transportation to be seen in an office.
- The quality of camera phone technology has improved such that patients can take and share photos with their doctor during a telehealth visit, if applicable.
Even in the diagnostics space, there are valuable uses for telehealth technology. For example, telehealth platforms can be used for presentation and discussion of diagnostic testing results. Telehealth technology is also providing opportunities for healthcare companies to become a one-stop-shop – seeing a patient online, sending out a diagnostic kit (when appropriate), processing the specimen in-house, and delivering results and a recommended treatment plan back to the patient via a telehealth follow-up visit.
Payors can take advantage of this approach as well. For example, a payor could proactively identify a gap in care, such as colon screenings for patients over the age of 45, and for patients with average risk, send them an at-home kit for screening. This both improves preventative care and may lower costs for consumers unfamiliar with this alternative to a colonoscopy.
There are other benefits of telehealth technology as well. PBS reported in May 2021 that offering behavioral health appointments via telehealth vastly reduced the number of skipped appointments. In one study, conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, the percentage of psychiatrists reporting that all patients kept their appointments jumped from 9% before the PHE to 32% once telehealth sessions became available.
Throughout the PHE, there have been many examples of telehealth enabling routine and preventative care to be provided across different locations with greater efficiency. Ultimately, this enables a sharper focus on patient care in many instances. Through telehealth technology, it is proven that providers can deliver expert diagnostic services in a fast, convenient and affordable way without patients coming into an office location.
Watch the Fierce Healthcare-hosted on demand webinar to learn more about digital health providers can improve revenue and patient and physician engagement.