The coronavirus pandemic has modified many facets of the American well being care system, however nothing modified fairly as drastically because the rise of telemedicine.
While digital care existed earlier than COVID-19, the apply boomed after state-mandated, stay-at-home orders and have since remained robust.
Prior to the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts acquired about 200 telehealth claims per day. That quantity reached up to 40,0000 claims per day from April to May 2020, and the insurer continues to be receiving about 30,000 claims per day virtually a yr later, based on spokesperson Amy McHugh.
Athenahealth, a well being tech firm, launched an interactive dashboard that delivered insights on telehealth developments from 18.4 million digital appointments by 60,000 suppliers.
“The pandemic has necessitated a new era in medicine in which telehealth appointments are a core aspect of the patient-provider relationship,” stated Jessica Sweeney-Platt, the corporate’s vp of analysis and editorial technique.
Here are some telemedicine developments the corporate and different well being consultants have discovered:
Mental well being appointments dominate digital care
Telemedicine had the most important impression on psychological well being visits with roughly 33% of appointments held nearly, based on athenahealth’s dashboard information.
McHugh stated psychological well being appointments made up about 53% of the 7.5 million telehealth claims processed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts since March 2020.
“Telehealth lends itself to mental health fairly easily because you’re essentially just talking to somebody, so that you can do from pretty much anywhere,” stated. Dr. Georgia Gaveras, chief psychiatrist and co-founder of Talkiatry, a technology-driven psychiatric care supplier.
Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – resembling job insecurity or the lack of a cherished one – has had a big impression on Americans’ psychological well being with anxiousness and despair turning into the commonest points, consultants say.
A survey performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2020 discovered more than 40% of respondents reported an hostile psychological or behavioral well being situation, and 11% reported having significantly thought-about suicide within the 30 days prior.
“The pandemic and telehealth have made seeking out mental health treatment a non-negotiable for a lot of people,” Gaveras stated.
Apart from the rising want for psychological well being therapy, she stated telehealth has additionally made it simpler to hunt care for individuals who might have wanted it earlier than the pandemic. Many of her sufferers schedule appointments in the course of the work or faculty day.
The flexibility of telehealth has additionally led to a stage of discretion, Gaveras stated, as some sufferers don’t need to be seen getting into a psychiatrists workplace or leaving work for normal visits.
“Telehealth is really getting people out there and seeking help for mental health more,” she stated. “The more people seek out mental health treatment, the less stigmatized it is.”
Primary care additionally drives telehealth appointments
After psychological well being, primary care was the second largest share of telehealth appointments with 17% of primary care visits being held nearly, based on the athenahealth dashboard.
“A lot of primary care is talking,” stated Dr. Katherine Dallow, vp of scientific packages and technique at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “It’s meeting them where they are, hearing their concerns.”
Most of the bodily facets of a primary care go to – resembling measuring weight and blood strain – may be executed at residence with cheap gear. Other bodily examinations solely require a digital camera and may be simply recognized nearly.
The prime causes for telehealth claims for primary care have been basic exams, hypertension, decrease again ache, bronchial asthma, belly or pelvic ache, and anxiousness or insomnia, based on information from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Of the 7.5 million telehealth claims in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% have been digital and 40% have been by cellphone.
Dallow stated telehealth has additionally compelled medical doctors to be more conservative about ordering lab work or imaging, resulting in a lower in pointless testing.
“When you have a telephonic visit, you’re going to think really long and hard as to whether a person must go to a location to get labs and radiology” instead of staying safe at home, she said.
Same-day appointments and shorter visits
Telehealth appointments are almost two times as likely to be scheduled for the same day compared to in-person visits, according to athenahealth data. They were also more likely to occur after-hours or on the weekends.
The flexibility of telehealth has allowed doctors to organize their workday to cater to both in-person and virtual appointments, Dallow said. The means less people in the office at one time, Dallow added, creating more opportunities for social distancing.
Telehealth appointments are also more likely to be under 15 minutes long compared to in-person visits. While some patients may be concerned that this decreases the quality of care, doctors argue it’s actually a sign of efficiency which can help increase the quality of care.
“I probably spend somewhere between 2 to 5 minutes per patient moving from one room to another or pausing to document or checking something on their file or handing something off,” Dallow stated. “There are built-in inefficiencies that isn’t time spending with the person… but some of those inefficiencies are taken care of by the fact that everything is electronic.”
Is telehealth here to stay?
It’s unlikely the U.S. will revert to its conservative use of telemedicine from before the coronavirus pandemic, health experts say.
“A lot of people had wanted to bridge the gap between technology and provision of health care long before the pandemic,” Dallow said. “What happened with COVID, for better or worse, was the entire industry was freed up from all the regulatory issues that had been a barrier to people accessing virtual care.”
But will those barriers return after the pandemic?
Sweeney-Platt from athenahealth said the biggest unanswered question in telehealth is the future of reimbursement status.
“There’s a lot of conversation on the policy front and payer community about the temporary changes that were made to reimbursement policies during the COVID pandemic,” she said. “Should they be made permanent? That’s the biggest area of uncertainty for providers in particular.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts said it’ll continue to support and cover telehealth. However, insurance companies have less control of other barriers such as increasing accessibility throughout the country and cracking down on fraud.
“This is an industry issue,” Dallow said. “We all need to meet in the middle on how to make (telehealth) the safest, most efficient, most affordable and most accessible form of receiving health care when possible.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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