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Telehealth has expanded leaps and bounds in the past few months. With the outbreak of Coronavirus and the high infection risk, people have turned to telehealth services to supplement non-emergent doctor appointments. By the end of the year, the use of virtual health services could hit 1 billion users. In March, the number of telehealth services increased by 50% compared to last year. As we see the number of telehealth visits continue to increase, it is safe to assume that this may be the new normal.
Coronavirus caused the telehealth industry to fast-track the wide implementation of the usage. Before COVID-19, there were multiple regulatory changes that may have taken years to implement but were fast-tracked to begin usage in a few weeks.
These changes have reduced or eliminated barriers to usage, giving both providers and patients easier and more convenient access to telehealth services. Before the pandemic, Medicare regulated the availability of telehealth services to only those who resided in rural areas. Now it is available in all locations.
There were also regulations surrounding those that could receive virtual care. Previously it could only be patients who had been in the office within the past three years. Now, physicians can treat any new or existing patients.
One large regulation that was lifted is the restrictions the HIPAA puts on the privacy of telehealth platforms. The Office of Civil Rights stated that during the pandemic, the discretion against providers who use Facetime, Zoom, or Skype, will not be enforced. But providers must ensure that they are using good faith when utilizing these tools.
Given the easier access to telehealth services, along with the stay-at-home orders that were mandated, the adoption of this technology has skyrocketed. It has helped those at home to not only screen for COVID-19 symptoms, but also have routine checkups and follow-ups.
Some healthcare industries that have seen the most success with telehealth are dermatology and behavioral health. Both industries do not need to meet in person in order to deliver a diagnosis. Dermatologists have used this to treat acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.
Behavioral health professionals have seen a rise in appointments, especially with the current pandemic. People’s mental health has been impacted largely by Coronavirus, so implementing telehealth services for this industry can help people when they need it most.
Previously, physicians using telehealth services have seen limited resources and financial compensation. This reality made physicians less likely to utilize these services. Due to the public health emergency, Medicare has waived all restrictions placed on telehealth reimbursements and has expanded coverage to a wider variety of the population. Some payers, like Medicaid, have reimbursed virtual doctor’s visits at the same rate they do for in-office appointments.
Over the last few months, we have seen telehealth grow massively and it has played an important role in managing the Coronavirus pandemic. As we look to the future, understanding the value of telehealth will be vital to its survival. As physicians and patients alike adopt the new technology, it will begin to become the new normal. With the widespread implementation of virtual visits, it is likely people will be more in tune with their health due to the convenience.
At SBMA, we offer the most competitive medical benefits plans in the industry. We offer 24/7 access to doctors, at no cost to you! Along with the option for behavioral health services with a $50 co-pay. To learn more about our virtual health options, contact us!