One year ago, this month, everyone had their world flipped upside down, as we entered the “two weeks to slow the spread” shutdown. Obviously as we learned more about COVID-19, the shutdown lasted longer than those two weeks, and we were forced to adapt the way we went about our daily lives.
As companies and organizations worked swiftly to adjust, many in the medical field turned to Telehealth. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, more than a 20-fold increase in the incidence of telemedicine utilization following March 13, 2020. Conversely, office-based encounters declined almost 50%.
As a result, both patients and providers have now experienced the benefits that telehealth has to offer over traditional care:
- When a patient and their family need to discuss test results or post-op care with a physician, a videoconference replaces an in-person visit, saving patients time and money related to travel.
- When a patient needs to manage a chronic condition like diabetes or COPD, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) replaces routine office visits and even prevents ER visits when the disease is mismanaged. And since RPM creates more frequent contact with the doctor’s office, patients experience less fragmentation of care when they forget to monitor their condition. As a result, patients have greater engagement and ownership of their health.
- Providers can significantly expand their potential patient base and improve the quality of care with no additional travel and minimal increase in overhead.
- Providers are at lower risk for burnout because they can interact with patients more frequently and manage patients more efficiently.
- Providers can more easily participate in training and education without traveling to out-of-state multi-day events.
- No-shows go down because patients are more engaged with their care team.
- Readmissions go down because RPM and remote consultations help patients manage health conditions more effectively. One innovative hospital invites the patient’s offsite family members to a video conference where they can ask questions of doctors, nurses, and other care team members, and also receive after-care instructions. This type of family and patient engagement can improve compliance with after-care instructions, which then reduces readmissions.
- Costs go down because online visits are less expensive than urgent care and ER encounters.
Even with the success of the past year in the industry, there are questions about the future of Telehealth. When COVID overtook the country, temporary policies were put into place to support telehealth. These policies have been extended and will likely be made permanent.
In an interview with the American Medical Association, John Halamka, MD and president of the Mayo Clinic Platform, recently echoed this sentiment saying, “The hashtags that were trending with the American Telehealth Association were #DontRollBack and #RetainTheGain. I will tell you the feeling that I get when I chat with people at CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] is that these are not going to be rolled back. These are changes that are going to persist. Obviously, we’ll see with a new administration what regulation and regulatory guidance they put forward. But if the issue is reaching more patients with more expertise and a better value, that’s certainly consistent with what we need in health care in this country—and it’s not partisan.”
Telehealth visits have skyrocketed in urban areas blanketed by broadband internet service, but when coverage is scarce, as it is in many rural areas, telehealth isn’t an option. Dr. Halamka encountered this situation when rolling out Mayo’s advanced care at home. Thirty miles out from an urban area you may get into not only not having a broadband connection, but not even having a good cellular connection. “The two answers are: On one hand, you need good connectivity, but also it needs a public that’s aware of the potential of telehealth. And in those rural areas, without a guiding organization providing access to telehealth care, people just may not know about the options.” Hopefully, efforts from the Mayo Clinic, ATA, and AMA will help increase the awareness and the reach of telehealth sooner rather than later. CareXM is helping lead the charge as well, by making telehealth services easier to adopt for providers, clinicians, and patients.
CareXM’s integrated communication platform is designed to help providers care for patients at home through remote patient monitoring (RPM), communication, education, and patient engagement across various reimbursement models offers both low cost patient outreach and engagement options via video chat, text, IVR and email as well as more robust fully loaded RPM kits for automated readings via Bluetooth enabled devices. Combined with CareXM’s clinical and non-clinical answering services, intelligent call routing, and robust data analytics, providers are positioned to truly transform the patient care experience right when we all need it most.
And who knows? Maybe in another year we’ll be able to look back and think less of what this pandemic has cost us and see more good – like advances in telehealth – that has come from it.