WHAT IS TELEHEALTH?
Telehealth was important in delivering healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for elderly Americans. With many limitations and rules in place to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, virtual care has been important in assisting the elderly to receive the care they need securely.
Nonetheless, according to statistics from GoHealth, a digital health firm focusing on Medicare, three in five Medicare enrollees and seniors approaching eligibility confess to being unfamiliar with video call technology. The primary problems are with access and education.
Prior to the pandemic, reimbursement was also a concern, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services enforcing strict regulations regarding what is and is not reimbursable, posing a barrier to entry. Recent regulatory reforms, however, have eased the regulatory climate considerably, with CMS making reimbursement adjustments and Congress considering permanent changes to the financial landscape for virtual care.
This enabled providers to quickly transition to virtual modalities when it became clear that the pandemic would change usage patterns. This has occurred consistently throughout the year: According to a May study conducted by the Alliance of Community Health Plans and AMCP, 72% of American customers have significantly altered their usage of conventional healthcare services, with many deferring in-person treatment in favor of virtual treatment in response to public health issues.
While 58 percent of respondents identified their doctor as the most trustworthy source of knowledge regarding the virus, just 31% felt “at ease” visiting their doctor’s office, resulting in substantial shifts in attitudes and behaviors toward conventional healthcare services.
This has raised concerns about adequately teaching patients about telehealth usage, especially seniors, who often lack access and technical savvy, although each senior is unique.
“Seniors are not uniform,” Dr. Paul Hain, chief medical officer of GoHealth, said. “Some people are at ease with technology, while others are not.”
According to the statistics, telehealth has exploded in popularity among Medicare beneficiaries, increasing from roughly 10,000 virtual visits per week to nearly 1.7 million — with older Americans accounting for a sizable portion of that total.
“Is telehealth beneficial for our elderly citizens? Given their susceptibility to COVID, he believes the answer is yes.” The second question is, ‘Is this a once-in-a-generation opportunity?’ And I believe that is not the case since there are many instances when it is acceptable. ”
There are many ways to extract benefits from virtual care experiences, but the issue is educating the elderly on using them effectively. The issue is not with the elders themselves, but with the obstacles they encounter. In Texas, for example, a lack of internet access complicates telemedicine for some groups, including minorities, rural people, and, yes, elderly Americans.
In such a context, it becomes a complex problem, including access, technical feasibility, and acclimating the elderly to the mode. This will need investments in infrastructure and patient communication.
“If you take Medicare Advantage plans as an example, where doctors are financially aligned and don’t have to worry about billing for everything, you’ll find that they can migrate to telemedicine more rapidly and enthusiastically,” Hain said. “It will be fascinating to watch how this unfolds.”
ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS AND COMMUNICATION
Because “access” is such a wide word, the associated problems are many. Certain individuals lack access owing to a scarcity of economic opportunities. If a patient can not afford access, they are left with limited alternatives. In contrast, certain geographic areas, mostly rural, lack access entirely, as is the situation in a large portion of Texas. In certain areas, mobile phone coverage is insufficient to handle the newest high-speed data transfer technologies, perhaps owing to a lack of infrastructural capability.
Hain views the answer in this context as a mix of governmental and private initiatives. A basic example may be found in the letter.
“As a nation, we got together and agreed that it is critical for everyone to have access to the mail,” Hain said. “Perhaps it is time to declare that we need everyone to have an internet connection – it is the new mail.”
Another benefit of access will be the transition from fee-for-service to value-based care delivery models, which Hain believes will go a long way toward resolving the US’s pricing problem.
“We’re discussing aligning things in order to enhance telehealth, which has the incredible potential to be the most efficient modality for both doctors and patients,” he said. “That is, aligning value is the quickest way to transfer it.
“As an example, telemedicine is excellent for mental health problems,” Hain said. “These are significant efficiency improvements, but if providers are required to charge for every action, it becomes onerous and promotes gamesmanship, while under a capitation system, the goal is to maximize benefits for the greatest number of people. Alignment is essential in the value-based care sector.”
“As a nation, we got together and agreed that it is critical for everyone to have access to the mail. Perhaps it is time to declare that we need everyone to have an internet connection.”
Meanwhile, communication may be enhanced in a variety of ways, and various provider organizations and insurers will devise novel methods to make individuals more comfortable. Ultimately, the greatest ideas will prevail. Providers can continue to see patients in person – in fact, they are required to do so – but it will be critical for hospitals and other healthcare organizations to invest in communication with their patients, particularly because effective communication fosters a stronger relationship between the patient and their primary care physician.
Medicare Advantage plans will succeed more rapidly, according to Hain, since the patient-selected doctor will assist them in understanding telemedicine to a certain degree, a trend that GoHealth is currently seeing.
“In today’s payment climate, it’s beneficial for individuals who are part of negotiated agreements,” he said. “You are already in sync. We’re going to have to constantly monitor how providers are compensated for their time since this will determine whether they can continue to practice. On the regulatory side, if you’re a smaller practice, using communication tools that are not HIPAA-compliant may be a deal-breaker, given the time and money required.
“I anticipate that the telehealth genie will not be returned to the bottle,” Hain said. “Things will slow down if we get the regulatory and payment aspects wrong, but I don’t believe we’ll ever return to where we were before. “I think it’s here to stay.”