The landscape of healthcare has dramatically changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brick and mortar doctor’s offices visits have in great part been replaced by e-visits via laptops and mobile devices within the comfort of patient’s homes. Stay-at-home orders and widespread quarantines have pushed the fast forward button on the increased adoption of telemedicine.
Prior to the pandemic, telemedicine was used in a much more limited capacity for lower-level services such as diabetic teaching and hospital-based specialty visits in rural areas. Although it was accepted in theory by many as a good alternative to face-to-face medical care under some circumstances, providers and patients alike were very slow to open up to this type of virtual care. Medicare only covered telemedicine visits in very limited situations and reimbursement rates from both government and private payersfor these services were very low.
In response to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began paying for telemedicine visits at the same rate as in-person visits and relaxed many of their rigid guidelines making virtual visits more accessible for Medicare patients. Many of the large private insurance companies quickly followed suit, which led to an onslaught of new telehealth visits the in March. The Wall Street Journal reported that CMS telemedicine visits increased from 100,000 to 300,000 per week as of March 28, with an expectation that it will continue to grow at a steady rate. According to research conducted by Frost and Sullivan consultants, total telemedicine visits have increased by 50% nationwide and could reach nearly 1 billion in total by the end of 2020.
The question that remains is what will happen when we win the COVID-19 war and the crisis is over? Although no one knows for sure how many of the new telemedicine administrative guidelines and reimbursement rates will remain in effect, it appears safe to say that virtual visits will remain a viable treatment option. Particularly in the new healthcare landscape with value-based-care at the forefront, providers and payers will continue to find value in this type of quality care which boasts new level of efficiencies and lower costs of care. Patients will continue to enjoy the comfort and convenience of receiving healthcare when and where they choose, without the worries of wait times, missed work or transportation.
On April 26, CMS administrator Seema Verma told the Wall Street Journal, “I think the genie’s out of the bottle on this one.” She continued, “I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.”
In short, telemedicine is here to stay.