Members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission are divided about how to proceed with Medicare’s telehealth policy post-COVID. Several members expressed concern that, because of the relative newness of telehealth, policy-makers should take more time to see what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, as telehealth has become an inextricable part of the health care landscape during COVID-19, other members have called attempts to roll back temporary policies “regressive.”
The Minnesota Department of Human Services, in partnership with two Native American centers in Minnesota, is distributing remote monitoring tools and telehealth supplies to Native American elders throughout the state. As the Native American population has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, these supplies will better allow community members to access health care from home.
HHS awarded $6.5 million to the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center (TTAC), based out of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, to assess and improve access to telehealth in rural areas of Texas, Michigan, West Virginia and Alaska. The Telehealth-Focused Rural Health Research Center through the University of Arkansas was also awarded $1.5 million to evaluate the program across participating communities.
In a survey conducted by The Harris Poll, about 65% of respondents said they plan to continue using telehealth after the pandemic ends. Many (44%) still preferred in-person visits, but nearly the same proportion said they would use a combination of in-person and virtual care, with the in-person option more heavily preferred by older respondents.
The South Dakota Governor introduced two pieces of legislation that would expand upon executive orders made during the COVID-19 pandemic to make permanent the flexibilities created for telehealth.
Members of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus have reintroduced the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act, which aims to make permanent some telehealth protections and regulations post-COVID. The bill would eliminate most originating site restrictions on Medicare telehealth coverage, allow CMS to continue covering telehealth services permitted by the PHE for 90 days after the PHE, and give HHS the authority to issue Medicare telehealth waivers in the future.
During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, researchers found lower use of video vs telephone visits among older, Black, Hispanic, and Spanish-speaking patients, driven largely by clinician and practice factors.
Funded by the CARES Act, BVCA has begun offering free Chromebook rentals across many counties in Nebraska. BVCA is also providing space to take telehealth appointments for those who do not have internet access at home.
The Providence health system, which is conducting about 10,000 telehealth clinic visits daily, offers recommendations about how to build sustainable telehealth programs. Among them are having a clinician champion the program and re-envisioning the layout of the entire practice, including the role non-physician practitioners can play in a telehealth program.
A digital marketing expert, Jonathan Treiber, discusses how providers should be marketing their telehealth programs. He recommends that the practice offer a user-friendly interface for the patient to increase use and utilize social media to allow potential clients to connect with the provider and with current (satisfied) clients. Trieber stresses the importance of “working out the kinks” of the telehealth program before marketing it to clients.
Minnesota health systems say they are likely to keep using telehealth after the pandemic, but improvements are needed, including improvements with technology. Also, providers still have questions about its regulatory future after COVID-19.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission is currently accepting applications for their 2021 telehealth funding. Eligibility includes participation in the federal Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF). The application is due April 15.
Amelia Harju and Jonathan Neufeld of gpTRAC recently published a study analyzing Medicaid telemental health claims in the post-Medicaid expansion period. The study found that telemental health usage increased most in states that expanded Medicaid.
Research analyzing patterns of telemedicine access from 150,000 patients found that older patients, non-white patients, non-English speakers, Medicaid recipients, and women were less likely to have had a telemedicine visit compared to the average patient. Study authors encourage telemedicine payment parity across all insurance types.
A study using New York data found that utilizing telemedicine in the emergency room significantly shortened average length of stay and wait time. This, in turn, improves patient outcomes and satisfaction.
Sun River Health, a 64-site system of federally qualified health centers providing care to low-income and vulnerable patients in New York state, received an FCC grant to vastly expand their telehealth program. As the epicenter of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., it was imperative for Sun River to switch to telehealth quickly by adopting new audio-visual capabilities and building a remote monitoring system. From February to May, Sun River saw a 9206.67% increase in telehealth visits.
A new HIMSS survey reported that 71% of U.S. adults say they would be willing to use telehealth after the pandemic. While younger patients are more likely to place convenience and accessibility first among health care priorities, they have used far less telemedicine during the pandemic compared to older adults.
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the Illinois Department of Agriculture debuted a helpline for Illinois farmers to more easily and confidentially access mental health care. Several Midwestern states--including Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa--have similar mental health helplines for farmers.
New research found that the most frequent users of direct-to-consumer (DTC) telehealth are younger patients who live in high-income, urban areas. Furthermore, only 14% of DTC patients were residing in primary care health professional shortage areas, suggesting that telehealth is still not accessible to those who might most benefit.
The three-year Frontier Community Health Innovation Program targeted 10 critical access hospitals in Montana, Nevada, and North Carolina. Of the 8 that used telehealth, all reported high patient satisfaction and success in improving access to care. However, small, rural hospitals are still challenged by their limited access to consulting specialists and by reimbursement and billing challenges.
A new HIMSS white paper found that telehealth visits increased by 50 to 175 times since COVID-19. Other findings showed that 76% of surveyed customers reported being likely to use telehealth in the future, and 74% reported high satisfaction.
Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) recently introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0 bill, which would allow health care providers to provide medication-assisted treatment drugs via telehealth. Currently, providers must conduct an in-person exam before prescribing MAT drugs.
Shenandoah Medical Center (SMC) recently received a $173,000 grant to develop their new emergency telemedicine program. The program will allow SMC to provide a 24/7 connection between emergency room staff and physicians to bridge the time until the on-call physician can arrive in person.
Trinity Health South Ridge and CHI St. Alexius in Minot, ND, were using telehealth for specialists only before COVID-19. Now, during the pandemic, the health centers have seen the value of telemedicine for primary care providers, as well.