Top 10 for 2021: #7 | Increased Access to Telemedicine through Novel Practice & Policy Changes

Top 10 for 2021: #7 | Increased Access to Telemedicine through Novel Practice & Policy Changes

It is a new spin on the old fashioned house call, using technology. Although easy and effective, movement to virtual visits has been slow. COVID-19 restrictions change that pace, forcing clinicians to conduct many of their appointments online. The need was immediate, but risks like data breaches and limits on Medicare coverage slowed expanding access.

On March 6th, Congress passed the Corona Virus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, allowing healthcare professionals to bill Medicare for telehealth during the public emergency. Since then, federal agencies have taken unprecedented action to expand access, issuing emergency directives to grow the types of telehealth providers covered, as well as increased connectivity in rural areas. In April, data showed 90% of physicians were using some form of telehealth, well above the rate seen prior to the pandemic. Leveraging this momentum, there are opportunities for long-term adoption to permanently improve patient experience and access to care.

William Morris, MD:
Hi, this is Dr. William Morris, and with me is Dr. Beri Ridgeway, Associate Chief of Staff, to talk about #7 on our Top 10 Medical Innovations list for 2021, ‘Increased Access to Telemedicine through Novel Practice & Policy Changes.’ So Dr. Ridgeway, tell us a little bit about how COVID-19 shaped the use of telehealth.

Beri Ridgeway, MD:
COVID-19 was a complete disruptor, and it was the disruptor that we needed. We'd been working really hard with our telehealth efforts – trying to meet the patient where she is, or he is. And with COVID-19, people were fearful of coming in [to the doctor’s office]. We also had restriction of some services based on our concern for the pandemic and government restrictions on in-person visits. Fortunately, based on the work that we'd already done, we could quickly pivot to a very high proportion of care that was performed via telehealth. So we really used this disruptor to our advantage, just on the shoulders of the work we had done and were able to really continue caring for all of our patients via virtual visits.

William Morris, MD:
Access is so important for patients continuing care – whether it be for chronic disease management or acute illness. How does policy play a role?

Beri Ridgeway, MD:
Policy is so critical, and I believe it was one of the barriers that prevented us from really taking telehealth to the next level prior to COVID-19. Fortunately, in early March, the government, both at the federal and state level, made significant changes in policy that really allowed us to catapult our efforts in telehealth and be there for our patients. This included who we could see patients, what type of provider, what platform – meaning that we could use the telephone or simple video chat functions within our phone, which we were previously not allowed – also coverage. Insurance coverage, both at the government level and at the private level, began covering these types of visits, which is really how it should have been all along.

William Morris, MD:
So lastly, this is certainly the new normal. Do you imagine us going back?

Beri Ridgeway, MD:
I don't think we're going to go back to where we were, which was telehealth as a very, very small percentage of our total care. We really have pivoted in a major way. We are not doing as much telehealth as we did during the height of COVID-19 and our concerns, but we're still significantly being able to reach patients across state lines, patients who can't come in, and really be there for our patients where they need to be seen. We're in a stage right now where we're seeing how this will all settle out, and developing best practices, both on the outpatient side, but also on the inpatient – really thinking what we can do in inpatient to provide our world-class care anywhere on the globe.

William Morris, MD:
Thank you, Dr. Ridgeway, for sharing your perspective. And we look forward to seeing more of how telehealth and distance health transform the way we manage our patients.
 

To read more about #7, click here. To watch the full one-on-one interview with Drs. Morris and Ridgeway, click here.
 
 

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