Within the past couple of months, stay-at-home restrictions and social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of telehealth. In the past, telehealth was nice to have around and came with some significant restrictions, but the pandemic has propelled it forward. However, without telehealth reimbursement parity, the advancements made within the past months could be lost. This is why many providers are already letting policymakers know that the current changes in payment policies need to stay in place, even once the pandemic and corresponding public health emergency is over (or at least under control).
Huge Increases in the Use of Telemedicine During the Pandemic
Although telehealth already had significant momentum before the coronavirus hit the United States, it took a pandemic to drastically change the way that medical practitioners deliver care to patients. The huge surge in the delivery of telemedicine is staggering. According to HRDive, one hospital in Philadelphia reported that they went from conducting just a few dozen telemedicine sessions each week to scheduling 500-600 telemedicine visits per day during the month of March. Insurers have also commented on the jump in the use of telemedicine, with Cigna reporting that they’ve seen a three-fold increase in the utilization of virtual care.
One survey conducted by Black Book Market Research and Sage Growth Partner, discovered that only 25% of respondents had used telehealth before the pandemic. However, now 59% of the same respondents reported that they’re more likely to take advantage of telemedicine services, with 33% saying they’d leave their current provider to work with a physician who offered access to telehealth. Global Market Insights released a report noting that by 2026, the telemedicine market will be valued at $175.5 billion – numbers that indicate the continuing need and demand for telehealth, both now and in the coming years.
Why Telehealth is Likely Here to Stay
Telehealth was already seeing significant growth and momentum before the Covid-19 pandemic, and now that it’s played such a vital role in the continuing delivery of care throughout this challenging time, it’s likely here to stay. According to Forbes, there are several reasons it’s likely to stick around.
- Patients are Already Embracing This Technology – As most of the U.S. has dealt with stay at home orders at some point, patients still needed access to care, and telehealth made this possible. Due to necessity, patients had to embrace technology. Now that so many patients have been forced to use the technology, many are very open to continuing telemedicine visits in the future.
- Regulatory Barriers Have Been Changed (At Least Temporarily) – Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, regulatory barriers have been eliminated nearly overnight to ensure patients had access to virtual care as the country worked to flatten the curve. While these regulatory changes are temporary, providers are already appealing to policymakers to continue these changes – such as loosening HIPAA privacy standards to make it possible to use standard video conferencing apps like Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom – in the future.
- Improved Payment for Physicians – Historically, physicians haven’t been paid well for telehealth visits, and once again, Covid-19 has changed that. Previously, providers had little incentive to adopt telemedicine, regulatory changes during the pandemic have changed that. Continuing to reimburse physicians at the same rates for in-office and virtual visits could keep encouraging providers to offer these services to patients moving forward.
- Continuing Investment in Telehealth Meets Emerging Technologies – While we’ve discovered some limits to video-only telehealth, the continuing investment in telehealth combined with emerging technologies will likely drive the telemedicine trend in the future. One example is TytoCare, which just receive $50 million to invest in a telehealth-connected otoscope, infrared thermometer, and stethoscope. As technology discovers ways to overcome some of the challenges presented by telehealth with telehealth-connected devices, it’s possible that telemedicine visits will soon rival in-person appointments.
Preparing Your Practice for the Future
So what does all this mean for your medical practice? While no one can truly predict what the post-pandemic healthcare field will look like, telehealth is likely here to stay and turning a blind eye to this means your practice is turning down untapped potential in the future. Providers are discussing the need to keep current regulations in place, yet many billers and coders are still struggling to get up to speed with the changes we’ve seen – nearly constantly – over the past few months.
It’s entirely likely we will see the permanent implementation of the current policies in place due to Covid-19. Looking toward the future, it’s important to ensure your practice is ready to adopt telemedicine in a bigger role moving forward. The telehealth landscape has changed constantly recently, and more changes are coming.
At M-Scribe.com, we specialize in medical billing and coding and we’re up-to-speed on the latest changes in billing telemedicine. We understand that constant changes can be overwhelming to billing and coding departments, which is why we’re here to help. Our experienced billing and coding staff stays up-to-date with the latest changes, and as telehealth continues to change and grow moving forward, we’ll be there to help you make sure you’re not missing out on reimbursements. Contact M-Scribe.com today to learn how we can help your practice.