White Paper

TeleHealth Arrives

 

Connected health in a post-COVID-19 world.

Some doors, once opened, can never be closed again.

Some doors, once opened, can never be closed again. Telehealth adoption has been a difficult door to open. Advocates for tele-capabilities have been pushing hard for years to see these solutions leveraged in ways that could truly address the cost, quality and access challenges of our increasingly understaffed and overburdened healthcare delivery system. Despite great potential to advance a convenient and cost-saving “care anywhere” ecosystem, telehealth adoption has been slow and limited to remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices and a small subset of reimbursable use cases.

There are plenty of competing interests at the table. Healthcare delivery has historically operated on the premise of physician-centric care and the assumption that quality care services could only be delivered in a face-to-face setting—the supposition that physician evaluation should always be hands-on. But sensor-driven and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled remote patient monitoring devices have challenged that assumption. Interpretation of findings is still the domain of the physician, but telehealth solutions are helping redefine the scope of clinical practice, and helping untether patients and care teams from facility-dependent evaluation and care.

Beyond the impact on traditional clinical practice, telehealth has been a complicated proposition. State licensure lawshave limited the geographical reach of the clinician.

Breaking Down Barriers to Implementation

By itself, the need for virtual care encounters might not have triggered this sudden surge in the adoption of telehealth capabilities. As with hurricane Katrina, the response of the federal government has been critical.

Three significant decisions may have opened the door for increased telehealth solution adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Expanded Reimbursement

In March of 2020, a national emergency was declared and restrictions around virtual care delivery were eased for Medicare beneficiaries and their providers. Accordingly, CMS expanded its reimbursement coverage to include routine office visits, mental health counseling and preventative health screenings, as well as the scope of providers who can bill for a telehealth visit.

Suspension of HIPAA Penalties

On March 30, 2020, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it would not impose HIPAA compliance penalties on providers using an audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth to patients during COVID-19.2 This has led to healthcare providers using technology for video chat—both enterprise-grade tools like BlueJeans, Cisco Webex,® and Zoom as well as consumer platforms such as FaceTime,® WhatsApp,® Facebook® Messenger, and Google Hangouts.™

Federal Funding

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is providing $200M in grant funds to cover COVID-19 telehealth deployment expenses. The program offers eligible healthcare providers immediate financial support for the telecommunications services and devices they need to provide connected care until the program’s funds are exhausted or the pandemic has ended.3 Nonprofit and public eligible healthcare providers who hadn’t planned or budgeted for these telehealth solutions in 2020 can apply for FCC funding. In just a few short weeks, this support from federal agencies has dismantled many barriers to telehealth solution adoption that have existed for years—barriers that will be difficult to resurrect in a post-COVID-19 world.

Verizon, through its BlueJeans Teleconferencing platform is an enterprise partner of Cloud Let’s GO for telemedicine and telehealth.

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