The Coronavirus pandemic exposed a great number of vulnerabilities in the US Healthcare system, from supply chain issues to bed surge readiness to local, state, and federal coordination. As hospitals reeled with the sudden and unprecedented demands placed on their systems, they were forced to respond in a largely reactionary way. They did what they had to in the moment to take care of the largest volume of patients they could effectively carry while simultaneously protecting their healthcare workers from a virus with no sound treatment protocol.
Banyan Medical Systems, a virtual-care provider that partners with nearly 800 hospitals nationwide, has seen a 900-percent increase in patients using telehealth services, according to its chief executive Tony Buda.
North Carolina’s Novant Health Chief Medical Officer Keith Griffin said its video visits have gone from 200 a week to more than 12,000 a week.
While the pandemic is far from over, it seems that nationally we may be on the backside of the initial surge (knock on wood). As a result, many healthcare professionals are taking a collective deep breath and reflecting on what occurred to learn valuable lessons that can inform better healthcare in the future.
One of the clear takeaways is that telehealth is needed, and it is here to stay. “Because we’ve always done it that way” is an often-misguided axiom that entrenches people in a less-than-productive process or behavior because it is what they know and are comfortable with. This pandemic, however, forced several major changes in the world of healthcare, and one of those changes was exposing patients to the benefits of virtual visits. Many patients who experienced a virtual visit for the first time during the pandemic discovered that the process was easy, convenient, and equally as effective as a face-to-face visit. In many cases, the virtual visit was so positive for the patient that they: a) asked themselves why they had never done it before, and b) told their friends and family about their favorable experience. Word of mouth can be as strong as a force of nature. As a result, we should expect a groundswell of demand from the patient community for virtual visits being a more common first line of interaction with healthcare providers.
In order to pave the way for this shift in healthcare to work effectively, regulations and reimbursements will need to adapt to this new normal. Fortunately, the Federal government has already set the stage for this change to occur by relaxing Medicare regulations regarding reimbursements for virtual visits (https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/telehealth). Private insurance companies will also need to follow suit, but it may take regulations at the state level to get them there (click here to see telehealth laws broken down by each state). The flow of money between patients, insurance companies, healthcare organizations, and healthcare providers is incredibly complex. Inevitably, the system will need to adapt to accommodate the increased utilization of telehealth in a post-pandemic world.