Telemedicine isn’t going anywhere… at least for now! This post will talk about what telemedicine is and how the peak of it isn’t even here yet!
Reimbursement for telemedicine was always one of the biggest hurdles advocates faced when offering this service. Except for rural areas, Medicare covered just a fraction of the services that could be offered via telemedicine. In 2020, the pandemic forced legislators to dismantle some of these roadblocks to telemedicine services, greatly expanding our ability to leverage technology and still get paid. Today, telemedicine still experiences parity in reimbursement with in-person care.
But now, with the strain of the global pandemic lessened, what is the fate of telemedicine? Did remote video conferencing for patients peak in 2021 or is this a tool that is here to stay?
The Impact of Telemedicine on Healthcare Practice
We saw dramatic changes in federal reimbursement policies during the pandemic. Before 2020, telemedicine captured just 1% of Medicare reimbursements. That burgeoned to more than 32% during the pandemic, then leveled to 17% by July 2021. But by nearly all accounts telemedicine is increasingly worked into the fabric of our daily workflows. The virtual visit is becoming normalized as more patients try it and like it.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests telemedicine is here to stay partly because the realities of high costs and lowered reimbursement demand it. They state, “When used appropriately, it improves patient health and reduces cost.” Since 89% of U.S. adults own a smartphone, including patients in medically underserved communities, telemedicine also becomes a tool of healthcare equity, something FQHCs have devoted their mission to support.
Community Health and Telemedicine
Telemedicine and community healthcare go together like peas and carrots. Telemedicine offers underserved populations some key benefits:
- It eliminates the need to travel to a remote healthcare facility for routine care. The necessity for travel to receive basic healthcare for a rural resident can lead to skipping preventative care so critical to their overall long-term health.
- These tools also help reverse the need for travel for routine health checks so important for adequately managing chronic illnesses. People in rural communities have higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart failure. Telemedicine can capture daily detail that can help doctors readjust medications or counsel sick patients. HBR says, “Traveling to the doctor’s office once a month, often for nothing more than a blood-pressure check, is time consuming, inconvenient, and for many people, expensive.” Virtual visits can increase in frequency, and they are less time consuming both for the patient and the clinician. These visits ultimately save money for the patient while increasing billables for your FQHC.
At UHC Solutions, we increasingly screen for “webside manner” in addition to bedside manner. Telemedicine appears to be an ongoing need with clear benefits for our client and the patients they serve. If your community healthcare organization needs talent, we can help you find the right fit.