Skilled Nursing Facilities Turn to Telemedicine to Maintain Continuity of Care during Spread of COVID-19
With the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the United States, nursing homes are adhering to the CDC’s guidelines for vulnerable patients, such as limiting visitors and outside consultants. These measures are crucial as coronavirus has most seriously impacted older people and people with pre-existing conditions.
Eight out of 10 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States have been adults aged 65 and older. In the well-known case of Seattle, the disease ravaged a nursing home facility, resulting in 25 deaths and infecting 129 residents. Dozens of the facility’s employees also tested positive, and subsequently spread the disease to other communities.
For this reason, more and more skilled nursing facilities are turning to telehealth to maintain patients’ continuity of care. Telehealth allows patients to continue receiving critical ongoing treatment, including chronic wound care treatment. Vohra Wound Physicians’ status as essential medical personnel within Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) ensures that providers are able to continue treating patients at bedside, though when necessary, are able to utilize Vohra’s telemedicine platform to continue treatment delivery without in-person visit.
Thanks to Medicare waiver 1135 and the passage of the CARES Act, more and more facilities are able to take advantage of telehealth. Many states along with Washington DC have elected to expand the use of telehealth as a way to combat the coronavirus outbreak. It is projected that more states will act, and that more nursing homes will incorporate telehealth appointments with specialists to help limit the spread of the virus among the older persons under their care.
Telemedicine at Home
New Medicare rules help more patients access telemedicine
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently broadened access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic with the 1135 waiver. This gives patients more options to see a doctor online rather than travel to a hospital or clinic, thus limiting exposure to the virus.
Under the new waiver, Medicare can pay for more telehealth visits, including from doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and licensed social workers. Wound care physicians are in high demand to treat patients electronically, as many of their patients reside in skilled nursing facilities.
Before this waiver, Medicare could only pay for telehealth on a limited basis, such as when a patient lives in a rural area without access to clinics. The new rules also state that the HHS Office for Civil Rights will waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that provide telehealth services in good faith to patients through FaceTime or Skype. These new rules allow elderly patients to access their doctors without traveling, which makes both them, and caregivers, safer.
Elderly patients at home and in skilled nursing facilities should use telehealth for most of their medical needs when possible, unless they start experiencing dangerous symptoms from COVID-19 such as extreme shortness of breath and prolonged high fever and other COVID-19 symptoms designated by the CDC.
Why wound care via telehealth is important for older patients in skilled nursing facilities
With shelter-in-place orders across the United States, and hospitals cancelling appointments and elective procedures, there is more need than ever for telehealth—the demand is skyrocketing. And providers are moving to meet the demand. Vohra Wound Physicians recently announced an expansion of its telemedicine program:
“Vohra Wound Care’s Telemedicine Program has been operating efficiently for nursing homes across the country for nearly 10 years,” explains John Sory, President of Vohra Wound Physicians. “And now, in this time of uncertainty, our technology is a proven solution to support our physicians, clients and patients. Physicians use the same Electronic Medical Records technology as is used to document bedside care – making it a very safe, familiar and effective alternative.”
Vohra’s physician group employs 300 providers across 27 states, all of which have access to Vohra’s proprietary EMR technology both at bedside and via telemedicine. Vohra’s telemedicine platform enables providers to maintain treatment of bed sores, diabetes and vascular ulcers and the like, as well as to make referrals for procedures like wound debridement. The technology features an added benefit of a built-in Dressings Dispensing function further enabling providers to customize treatment to the individual patient’s needs.
While telehealth is not a substitute for bedside care, Vohra’s technology provides a platform for patients and at-home health providers to interface with specialists to improve patient outcomes—while also protecting all parties from COVID-19 infection.
The importance of wound care specialists to nursing homes (pandemic or not)
Wound care physicians that work with nursing home facilities are a great benefit to the facility, patients and families alike. Working with an organization like Vohra Wound Physicians helps reduce rehospitalizations, improves healing times and saves tens or even hundreds of thousands of healthcare dollars.
Wound care physicians work with skilled nursing facilities to develop treatment plans, consult and guide patient treatment and educate nursing staff. The physician may visit a facility once per week in-person or via telemedicine and becomes a trusted and consistent member of a patient’s care team.
Plus, it has been found that facilities that work with Vohra have less than 0.08% wound-related rehospitalizations per day, which reduces the amount of CMS penalties for high readmission rates.
As Vohra has expanded Telehealth offerings during the COVID-19 crisis, it is a great time for nursing homes to take advantage of telemedicine to treat patients’ chronic wounds.
Telehealth to help flatten the curve of the novel Coronavirus in the U.S.
During a pandemic that largely affects older people like the novel coronavirus, now is the time for everyone to help slow the growth and flatten the curve. This prevents hospitals from being inundated with coronavirus patients, which then taxes medical supplies and puts healthcare workers at risk.
Social distancing and telehealth are key ways to keep patients and healthcare workers safe. Patients will get the treatment they need without visiting clinics or hospitals, limiting exposure.
It is important for even more states to enact rules that give patients on Medicare and Medicaid more access to Telehealth, as this is our most vulnerable population.
Vohra Wound Physicians is working hard to increase access to Telehealth while providing the utmost care to the elderly in skilled nursing facilities. To learn more about services offered by Vohra Wound Physicians, either at bedside or via telemedicine, visit us here.