As of Wednesday last week, senators of both parties have agreed to make permanent and widespread changes to the restrictions hampering telehealth’s growth. Given the current importance and growth of telehealth during these pandemic-stricken times, we are likely to see a huge and permanent increase in telehealth’s importance for years to come.
The start of the pandemic saw telehealth users increase by over 100 times, from the low ten thousands to around 1.3 million members. This huge spike was fueled by the need for self-isolation, especially amongst seniors who are at a higher risk of death from the coronavirus. This huge uptick is probably here to stay, as the next couple of months will reinforce the viability and convenience of telehealth in the minds of the patient population. This effect will be further amplified by the recent $50M bill increasing its coverage in rural settings.
Telehealth growth in the past has previously been hampered by low reimbursement, as Medicare would provide very low coverage for associated services. The Trump administration has now allowed telehealth to be covered by Medicare at the same amount of subsidisation as in-person visits. Additionally, HIPAA regulations that force doctors to only perform telehealth work in the states where they have been certified are being relaxed. This is allowing telehealth to further flourish as doctors from less stricken areas are able to help with the hospital overload in areas with a higher case count.
Most interestingly, there has been talk about making these changes permanent. This could really help ensure telehealth’s continued success in the future as it becomes a staple of healthcare in rural communities or with patients at risk.