States and providers moved quickly to expand access to telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic. While the technology was already growing in popularity, its use in response to COVID-19 has increased the speed of its adoption. Here are some of the latest headlines centered around U.S. telehealth use.
Telehealth Expansion Now Permanent in Idaho
Under an executive order signed by Governor Brad Little, more than 150 emergency rules enacted in Idaho to address the coronavirus pandemic have become permanent. Many of these rules, which have been enacted since March, include expansion of telehealth platforms. This change will help expand access to care and may improve patient outcomes in the state.
Some of these now-permanent rules include allowing the use of applications like Zoom and Facetime for telehealth services. Another rule now allows out-of-state providers with valid licenses to treat Idaho residents via telehealth.
VA Expands Patient Care Via Telehealth
So far this year, VA has delivered more than 9 million telehealth appointments, including 1.1 million remote mental health appointments. Like many other health providers, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) canceled and postponed many on-site appointments while expanding its use of telehealth in response to COVID-19. VA plans to continue using telehealth as its locations begin to shift back to offering in-person appointments.
To support infrastructure improvements, including telehealth expansion, the VA Office of Information and Technology received nearly $2 billion in supplemental funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The Veterans Health Administration also received $17.2 billion for medical support.
Best Practices for Long-Term Telehealth Use
Because many clinicians implemented telehealth services as quickly as possible, they may not be fully prepared for its long-term use. An article Medical Economics offers a list of best practices to encourage a telehealth program’s success.
- Make sure the telehealth services integrate into the rest of the practice’s workflow
- Communicate with clients before and after the telehealth appointment
- Instead of troubleshooting patient’s technical difficulties, refer them to separate customer support services
- Provide proof of all telehealth visits with accurate, detailed reporting and documentation
Telehealth Could Help Control Spending
Behavioral healthcare, driven partly by recent unemployment and social isolation, is expected to contribute to increased healthcare spending in 2021. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts reported that its mental health services accounted for almost 50 percent of its increase in telehealth claims.
However, PwC’s 2021 medical cost trend report suggests that broader use of telehealth could help balance some of that increased spending. Payers may need to alter their benefit designs to incentivize mental telehealth use and work on finding the right reimbursement rate for telehealth. Many employers recognize that mental healthcare spending now could help avoid potentially larger medical bills from deferred mental health treatment, especially for members with chronic conditions.
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