The evolution of telehealth has accelerated at an exponential pace in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Government regulators, insurance companies, hospitals, and individual healthcare practices are all changing how they do business, in order to adapt to this new reality. Patients are also embracing telehealth and demanding more telehealth services, as they stay at home for the health and safety of both themselves and their communities.
Significant Changes at CMS
Some of the most profound and impactful changes are at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The list of new telehealth services authorized by CMS was recently expanded by 80, and CMS now permits patients and clinicians to use a broad range of interactive apps and remote technologies. Thanks to an easing of requirements at CMS, physicians can use telehealth to fulfill their requirements for face-to-face visits related to home healthcare, hospice care, and patients in rehab facilities. Patients with acute or chronic conditions can also be monitored remotely by their clinicians, and doctors may supervise their teams virtually, versus face-to-face.
Several leading telehealth companies are offering COVID-19 screening, testing, and risk assessment tools. Patients can log on to a system to share their symptoms, be interviewed by a healthcare provider, and be directed to a local hospital if necessary. That eases the burden on emergency rooms and other brick and mortar healthcare facilities, while also providing patients with a fast and reliable way to be educated, evaluated, diagnosed, and given guidance about what to do next.
With fewer regulatory hurdles and more financial reimbursement, telehealth is gaining traction in innovative and adaptable ways. Providers are collaborating via telehealth platforms in order to share their expertise as specialists in areas ranging from pediatrics to psychiatry and from cardiology to medical research. The telehealth company Cloudbreak Health, for example, provides a platform that includes specialties such as telepsychiatry, telestroke, and tele-ICU. There are also features to help support patients with limited hearing or deafness and those who have difficulty communicating in English.
Reducing Frontline Demands
Telehealth providers also provide technologies that can be used within a hospital or other sprawling healthcare site. These reduce the need for bedside interaction and free-up nurses and doctors during a time of unprecedented demand and shortages of qualified personnel. Rather than checking on patients in person, which can be time and labor intensive and magnify potential COVID-19 exposure, nurses and clinicians can interact with them virtually. The telehealth devices used to do this can be wheeled into the patient’s quarantined room, and after the consultation they can be easily sanitized for safe deployment elsewhere.
Mental Health Support
Due to the need for social distancing, some mental health providers have seen their use of telehealth via technologies like video chat double. Family members and friends are also using those kinds of platforms to reassure and connect with loved ones who are afflicted by mental health issues. That’s also a critically important form of telehealth care, even though it may be provided by those who are not actually healthcare professionals.