Over the past year, telehealth insurance coverage has evolved. While telehealth is not a new practice, it has become much more widely utilized since the outbreak of COVID-19. Historically, telehealth was utilized in certain instances, such as for patients who lived in more rural areas with limited access to resources. In regard to telehealth insurance coverage, effective March 2020, Medicare began covering these visits under much broader guidelines and were paid at the same rate as in-person visits. Some of the most common technology platforms include FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Under the guidelines during the pandemic, the use of two-way audio-only communication has also been permitted. The use of these platforms has allowed physicians to screen their patients, recommend and treat the issue at hand, and follow-up accordingly, all while minimizing the risk of exposure to COVID.
It is safe to assume that the use of telehealth will continue following the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, it was estimated telehealth accounted for $3 billion of what Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurers spent on outpatient office and home health visits. That number is expected to rise to about $250 billion post-COVID.
Of course, with the increased use comes expected and unexpected challenges. With telehealth insurance, some limitations that have been considered when it comes to increasing its use include the licensure issues that may vary state-to-state, occasions when it is more appropriate to physical screen a patient, limited access to technology or connection issues, and the patient(s) comfort level with using technology and/or while discussing more sensitive topics.
Over the last ten months, our care coordination team has adopted Zoom as a way to conduct our initial assessments and quarterly visits with clients. Despite “connecting” virtually, we miss that personal connection and the opportunity to figuratively and literally “hold our client’s hands” during difficult times.