Providers Respond to Rising Demand for Telehealth following US Healthcare Coverage Expansion
The demand for TeleHealth is trending upward after the federal stimulus package expanded healthcare access for millions of Americans in late March of 2020. The CARES Act removes deductible requirements, expands access for Medicaid patients and relaxes rules regarding video and Telehealth. Now, an unprecedented number of people are using virtual medical services, with some telehealth providers reporting that use is up 257% since the coronavirus outbreak, and states like Washington showing a 700% increase. Vohra Wound Physicians has been treating patients in Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) via telemedicine for nearly ten years.
Vohra has also experienced a dramatic uptick in demand in light of Coronavirus. Due to social distancing measures restricting residents from leaving or moving freely about facilities, increased risk for wound onset and recurrence is expected in many SNFs, Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs), nursing homes, and the like.
Vohra Wound Physicians is thus offering current partners access to telemedicine where those organizations would not have qualified prior to the CARES Act. Vohra is also offering facility partners access to its Dressings Dispensing Program (DDP) providing patients wound dressings prescribed by the wound care doctor to be delivered directly to the facility within 24-48 hours. Patients are able to maintain continuity of care, and facilities do not need to rely on external representatives or vendors who are likely restricted from visiting facilities altogether.
While using telemedicine is vital for slowing the spread of coronavirus, it is putting a strain on some hospitals and clinics which are rushing to meet the demand. One Colorado medical center saw demand rise an astonishing 1,000%, and subsequently trained 100 additional providers to work online.
The ability for providers to meet the public’s demand for telehealth is driving, arguably, the most important aspect of social distancing; Treating both non-infectious and infectious patients at home and online when medically possible is saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic. Not only does social distancing prevent potentially ill people from infecting other patients at clinics, hospitals and doctor’s offices, it also helps keep medical professionals safe and preserves the extremely in-demand personal protective equipment (PPE) that shields practitioners from the Coronavirus droplets that spread the disease.
Why the Telemedicine Boom?
The $2.2 trillion stimulus package makes it easier for more Americans to access Telemedicine. Patients with high-deductible health insurance policies can now meet with their doctors online, and insurance companies must pay even if the person has not reached the deductible. The stimulus package also gets rid of video requirements for using telemedicine, which means people without video technology can talk to a health provider via phone. Other requirements, like mandating that a provider must have seen the patient face-to-face within the last three years, are now gone.
Plus, earlier in March, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare expanded Waiver 1135, which allows Medicare to pay for office, hospital and other Telehealth visits. Before this waiver, payment for telemedicine was much more limited: the person receiving telehealth had to be living in a rural area without access to in-person clinics.
Both the CARES Act and the Medicare waiver mean many more people are using Telehealth. With stay-at-home orders now prevalent across the United States, accessing care online or over the phone is the best way to treat patients while also curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Companies hustle to deal with higher demand than ever for Telemedicine
While many industries are flat-lining during the economic downturn caused by coronavirus social distancing, telehealth companies are soaring. Some are struggling to serve extreme volumes of patients, with major loads on broadband and extremely long wait times. Employees at a Cleveland clinic reported recently that the tech is often undependable, crashing multiple times daily. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping up to address these technology problems, having pledged $200 million to provide telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services to help treat COVID-19.
Major telemedicine companies like Teledoc and Doctor on Demand are frantically hiring physicians and reinforcing infrastructure. So far, Teladoc has hired thousands of new clinicians since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Vohra Wound Physicians, with nearly a decade of experience in the telemedicine space, is expanding access to telemedicine and hiring wound care doctors to meet demand. Vohra is launching virtual care to patients at home. This is geared toward providing expert wound treatment to patients via telehealth. This program collaborates with home health agencies to improve patient care and expands access to physician specialists.
Hospitals and clinics are encouraging people showing symptoms of coronavirus to first get help online rather than going to the ER and exposing doctors and patients alike. Healthcare workers can provide coronavirus screening and advice over the phone or a video call to assess the seriousness of the illness.
Tech giant Apple is also getting in on the action by helping with the diagnosis of coronavirus. The company partnered with the CDC to develop a website and an app that lets users screen themselves for COVID-19. The app reminds people that if they have constant chest pain or pressure, extreme difficulty breathing or severe dizziness to call 911 immediately.
Finally, an Austin-based tech startup is developing a telehealth app and in-home coronavirus test kit so people can test themselves at home rather than going into a hospital.
Telehealth is here to stay
It is expected that as demand for telemedicine continues to increase, we will continue to see companies implement innovative ways to serve patients and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has all but forced people to use Telehealth, when before, only 9% had ever tried online care.
Now, according to a new survey from Sykes, 72% of people say they would use Telemedicine to be screened for coronavirus, and two-thirds of respondents say COVID-19 has increased their willingness to try Telehealth in the future. However, people over 55 expressed concern about the validity of telemedicine, and whether it can work for more than minor ailments. Ultimately, further education is needed for people to understand the benefits and value of Telehealth moving forward.