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Telehealth in a Post-Covid World

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The shift from in-office care to telehealth is one that Q Consulting, amongst many others, made predictions about long ago. Much of the market expected this turn to resemble what we had seen in other industries, however, we were way too early, and it seemed like we were forever saying, “this is the year!”.

We are now going on record (again) to say, that NOW is the time, but why do we think we might be right this time? Our answer is that the current pandemic has been given a taste of just how easy this care is – its convenient, doesn’t cost us anymore and the quality of care has at least stayed in line with our in-person visits.

The rapid adoption of telemedicine has yielded many challenges and lessons for providers, insurers and health systems—from the importance of seamless technology to the challenges of providing access to low-income communities to the need for equitable reimbursement policies for telehealth visits.

What did this Mean for Health Systems?

Many health systems were not prepared for how they would or could serve their patients when the pandemic stopped people from either being able, or wanting, to visit their doctor. As such, according to an ACHP survey, 42% of consumers feel uncomfortable going to a hospital and 45% do not want to visit urgent care or walk-in clinics. Hospitals became a place that patients went for high acuity care, but the typical in-office visit, and its corresponding revenue, dripped substantially

Health systems moved quickly to offer telehealth solutions, and the regulatory environment surrounding this delivery model changed overnight with the stroke of a few government pens. Telehealth and digital solutions, which had historically been hindered by restrictive regulations, and reimbursement issues broke free. With patients on lockdown health systems saw dramatic increase in telehealth usage over the course of the pandemic. This meant that providers went from offering no telehealth capabilities to conducting most visits virtually in a matter of weeks

However, except for a few key programs, most health systems were not ready for this growth, and rushed to find possible the most scalable and lowest cost solutions, most of which were conducted outside of the EHR Going forward, health systems will want to be more deliberate about telehealth deployment.

Is it all going to end?

CMS and commercial payers rolled back regulations that previously inhibited widespread adoption of telehealth, but the changes were marketed as being temporary and only in place until pandemic ends. A few commercial payers have announced their initial policy changes will be extended through the end of the year, or will become permanent, but CMS has not yet made any announcements.