Telehealth has been around for years, but it became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth or telemedicine’s growth increased because of a desperate need to reduce in-person visits at the beginning of the pandemic and was boosted by the U.S. government’s rare move to loosen some Medicare policy and payment restrictions. Because Medicare has lowered its requirements, insurance companies have been slowly following suit.
For instance, there was the Medicare Expansion program, which allowed telehealth visits to be considered the same as in-person visits and physicians to be paid at the same rate as long as you have an established relationship with the patient. Additionally, HIPPA and Drug Enforcement Agency standards have been relaxed. This has been one of the several reforms in the wake of COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic, more people are growing accustomed to seeing their physician virtually, and you, as the physician, are getting better reimbursement for it.
One of the benefits of telemedicine - even post-pandemic - will be the health care system’s ability to reduce emergency room overcrowding. According to a study by the American College of Emergency Physicians, telemedicine’s strength has been to help us meet patients’ needs and has proven to be a critical tool to help navigate the most significant public health crisis of this century.
According to TelehealthHHS.gov, the federal government has taken concrete steps to make telehealth services more comfortable, implementing greater access during this national emergency. These changes are temporary measures during the COVID-19 public health emergency and are subject to revision.
Almost every state has modified licensure requirements and renewal policies for health care providers in response to COVID-19, including out-of-state requirements for telehealth. For emerging updates and the latest requirements for each state, see:
- The U.S. States and Territories Modifying Requirements for Telehealth in Response to COVID-19 - from the Federation of State Medical Boards
- U.S. States and Territories Modifying Licensure Requirements for Physicians in Response to COVID-19 - from the Federation of State Medical Boards
- COVID-19 Related State Actions - from the National Policy Telehealth Resource Center
Interstate compacts make it easier for health care providers to practice in multiple states. For details, see Medicare Clarifies Recognition of Interstate License Compacts.
The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) streamlines the licensing process for physicians to practice medicine in multiple states. About 80% of physicians meet the criteria for licensure through the compact, according to the IMLC. For a list of participating states, see Compact State Map.
Telemedicine has been life-changing for those living in rural communities - some of whom can’t get into facilities. This may be because they don’t have a car, can’t get out of their remote area due to snow, or live in or across flooded farmland. These patients still need medical care and medicine. Virtual visits don’t just make it more convenient to receive care. They also minimize the risk of exposure to the virus and the likelihood of community spread. There will always be a need and a role for an in-person visit for your patients to see you, but if they are in a position where they can’t drive, have to rely on someone to drive them or don’t have the financial means to get to places, a video can handle those in-between appointments.
There are many benefits as a physician to continue to grow your telehealth medicine practice, such as keeping control over your schedule. You usually have fewer late appointments, fewer cancellations and, in general, telemedicine visits are shorter. Another benefit is to work from wherever you want. You can work from home, your office or wherever best fits your needs. This kind of flexibility can tremendously help with burnout.
Once the pandemic is declared over, telemedicine will continue to grow. It will help with the physician shortage problem we’ve had for years and we plan to see for years to come.
Telehealth has helped by laying the groundwork to secure its place in the future. Just like other ground-breaking things seemed out of the question at some point in medicine, telemedicine is not going away.