Impact of COVID-19 on Telehealth Services

Summary of Study

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced medical professionals to add more virtual visits to their schedules and patients to rethink how they seek access to medical care. In an effort for members of the community to stay safe and socially distanced, many have turned to telemedicine. Furthermore, regulatory waivers have been issued regarding telehealth services for Medicare patients, and many private insurers have adjusted their reimbursement policies (to increase the payments to providers for telehealth visits so they are on par with in-person visits).

This research explores the benefits of telehealth services, and identifies several drawbacks as well. Technological challenges include anything from a patient not having a phone or tablet with a camera to a lack of internet connectivity. Additionally, the patient must take the phone calls inside lines of the states in which they reside. Policy changes and advancement in internet capabilities across rural areas will be extremely important to the longevity of telemedicine once it is safe for patients to go back to the doctor’s office in person. These improvements may be tedious and potentially expensive, but telehealth is providing much needed help in a difficult time and, despite its drawbacks, will have the chance to grow and evolve as the field of medicine continues to make strides in the coming months and years. Other recommendations include the reexamination of licensing and credentialing requirements for providers who have been temporarily authorized to provide telehealth services, continued payment parity between in-person and telehealth visits to encourage providers to offer telehealth care options, and implementation of measures to minimize the risk of fraud or inappropriate usage of telehealth services.

There may ultimately be certain technological downfalls and some aspects of medicine that are impossible to accomplish over a video chat, but local telehealth practices allow patients to stay socially distanced from one another while simultaneously acquiring much needed care from their trusted healthcare professionals.

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Feature Charticle

The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development

Findings:

  • Based on the information presented in Fair Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional tracker, it is clear that telehealth visits skyrocketed as COVID-19 cases started to increase in March 2020.
  • April 2020 not only coincides with a large portion of the country going into lockdown – it also coincides with the effective dates of many waivers and insurance adjustments.
  • The percent increase in the volume of telehealth claims in the Northeast region of the United States compared to the prior year is significantly higher than the national increase.

Read the full report here