Five Reasons Telehealth Will Remain in a Post-Pandemic World
For years, experts have been wondering what it would take to speed up the adoption of telehealth. While no one could have guessed it would take a global pandemic to get payers, providers, and patients on board at the same time – that’s exactly what happened, and it happened nearly overnight.
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed COVID-19 a pandemic and in the days that followed, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) lifted nearly all the restrictions that had been put into place around the delivery of telehealth. When this happened, organizations without a telehealth platform or strategy were left scrambling to get one – quickly.
Since then, adoption has skyrocketed! It’s been nearly eight weeks and the rapid deployment and utilization of telehealth has been catching on like wildfire. Analysts at Frost & Sullivan report that the number of visits surged by 50% in March alone amidst the pandemic. Similarly, Forrester Research reports that visits are on pace to top one billion by the end of this year. Prior to COVID-19, only 10% of adult Americans had used telehealth. Just a few weeks in, adoption rates have climbed to 18% and experts anticipate that number will continue to increase.
Here are five reasons we don’t think this trend is going away – even in the post-pandemic world.
Providers Are Onboard. In many cases, providers were hesitant to dive into telehealth for many of the same reasons consumers were cautious to get onboard. Many doctors like the personal patient interaction and have relied on physically seeing and interacting with patients for decades – how could that all be replaced virtually? They have quickly learned that while it can’t all be done electronically, a great deal of services can – and probably should – be delivered using telehealth (particularly during a pandemic). Those who were not comfortable with the concept or the technology have overcome these feelings of uncertainty and most have responded favorably. These changes that could have taken years have occurred in a matter of weeks.
CMS is Moving Quickly. CMS continues to make sweeping changes to their telehealth reimbursement policies in response to COVID-19. After relaxing regulations in March, they followed suit on April 30th with several additional, major changes. These changes include the expansion of the types of providers who can deliver telehealth to include all those who are eligible to bill Medicare for professional services, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists. Next, they relaxed regulations to allow reimbursement for certain audio-only (telephonic) visits to include behavioral and patient education services. In addition, rural health clinics and federally qualified health clinics will now be paid for telehealth. Finally, CMS has announced its plans to speed up the process for approving new telehealth services.
Fear of the Unknown is Fading. Patients were hesitant to use telehealth before, because it was all a big unknown. Questions like ‘How would it work, when do you use telehealth?’; ‘Can the doctor even help me without seeing me in person?’; and ‘How much will it cost and will my devices even support the technology?’ are all now answered. Now that there is a greater awareness and comfort with the technology, most experts and analysts believe there is no going back.
Practice Makes Perfect. Adopting new technology is never easy – especially in a very personal business such as healthcare. The great news is that providers and patients alike are getting plenty of great practice in using telehealth right now. What could have remained an awkward, clunky process for years with limited adoption is transitioning to a well-oiled operation across the country. Better processes will lead to greater efficiency which is good news for providers, patients, and payers alike.
Convenience is King. Now that consumers have had a taste of telehealth, they are quickly experiencing the benefits in terms of saving time, travel, and the headaches associated with in-person visits. While virtual visits obviously can never replace all healthcare services, regardless of how payers respond in terms of reimbursement for the long-term – we suspect consumers will demand the availability of telehealth well into the future.
In conclusion, COVID-19 has changed the course of telehealth adoption in a way no one could have forecasted just a few months ago. Even CMS administrator Seema Verma has been quoted saying “There’s absolutely no going back” as it relates to the proliferation of telehealth.
GeBBS Healthcare Solutions offers a full spectrum of outsourced medical billing, collections, coding, and telehealth expertise. With the recent challenges of COVID-19, telehealth has gone from a “somewhere in the future” patient care technology to a now technology and immediate adoption has never been more critical – GeBBS diligently works side-by-side with our large client base and industry experts alike to navigate the associated complexities of telehealth. GeBBS’ leadership and SMEs remain at the forefront of change, by continuously monitoring updates and releases and partnering with leading industry experts to transfer and share our knowledge that ensures our clients remain current and compliant in the everchanging world of healthcare. To learn more, visit gebbs.com