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Telehealth is Here to Stay!

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

For many providers and the patients they care for, the term “virtual care” has become a household name since March 2020. Today, many providers continue to embrace virtual care options such as telehealth and asynchronous texting. Most notably, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has increasingly recognized the benefits of virtual care to diagnose, treat, and manage a wide range of conditions. Late last year, the Biden administration announced they will extend Medicare reimbursement to physicians for certain telehealth services – including mental health – through the end of 2023.

Prior to the pandemic, telehealth usage comprised less than 1% of outpatient visits. But almost instantaneously as offices closed, telehealth use exploded to 13% of total visits, before dropping to 8% in 2021 — a 700% increase against the baseline. As a result, telehealth helped fuel a 19% increase in outpatient visits between 2019 and 2021.

With the deadline extended, CMS released their CY 2022 Physician Fee Schedule which lists 271 services that can be reimbursed by a virtual visit that can include video, audio, or texts. While 99 of those are temporary because of the pandemic, the agency acknowledges the continued value of virtual care.

Since private payers often follow CMS guidance, higher telehealth usage is expected to continue. However, not all telehealth and virtual care platforms are created equal. Providers need a secure communications platform that is HIPAA-compliant, easy to use for both providers and patients, and where patient information flows to an electronic record.

Telehealth has proved its worth during the pandemic and is well-positioned to remain a care option for most providers and patients. Here are a few reasons why telehealth is here to stay:

1. Stats don’t lie – patients and providers agree on virtual care!

Patients and providers both express overwhelming satisfaction with virtual visits and express a desire to continue them, with 76% of consumers expecting telehealth to remain a visit option. Another survey shows that two-thirds of physicians say that virtual-only or hybrid care would best fit their lifestyle needs.

2. Reimbursement is key to provider buy-in

3. At the same time, nearly 70% of physicians say they’re interested in continuing to offer telehealth services — as long as they can be reimbursed for the care they provide. Much of that continued access hinges on achieving permanent Medicare coverage of telehealth services for patients, including in-home care that was previously disallowed.

Prior to March 2020, the Medicare program only paid for telehealth services in very limited circumstances:

  • Patients in rural areas

  • Service provided only at a medical facility

  • Two-way audio-video telecommunications equipment was required

  • Limited services available

  • Payments at facility rates (about 30% below in-office reimbursement)

4. A more convenient and confident patient experience

A recent study published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine examined 800 patient surveys in an academic medical center’s family medicine practice among those who received telemedicine services. Among respondents, 91% described their video visit as more convenient than office-based care; 74% said their wait times were shorter; 87% felt confident about their privacy, and 91% expressed willingness to use telemedicine again. The survey was based on visits completed between April and December 2020. The article notes that telehealth is one facet of a broader patient engagement strategy, which besides virtual visits can include patient education, medication adherence, and patient monitoring through fitness devices and connected mobile apps.

5. Smartphones pave the way for virtual visits

For ever-increasing numbers of patients, the communications avenue of choice is their smartphones. Fully 85% of adults own a smartphone, according to the latest statistics from the Pew Research Center. Smartphone use is nearly ubiquitous among the youngest adults, but 71% of adults ages 64 to 74 have smartphones.

A robust communications platform like Rhinogram that supports asynchronous, secure texting and video calls can bring providers and patients closer together. Such a platform gives clinicians the tools they need to communicate with and monitor patients in a compliant manner while receiving reimbursement. For patients, the benefits include faster and more convenient access to care by utilizing a tool that nearly everyone already uses on a daily basis.

Providers considering an investment in telehealth should explore options that offer secure communication that’s easy for patients to use and that offers the highest privacy and security standards.

Find out how your organization can benefit from our virtual care platform by requesting a demo.

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