Telehealth Is Here to Stay

By Nick van Terheyden aka Dr Nick, Principal, ECG Management Consulting
Twitter: @drnic1
Host of Healthcare Upside Down#HCupsidedown

Telehealth is a topic that many of us in the healthcare technology industry have talked about for decades. But no matter how close we thought we were, no matter how promising the technology, widespread adoption always seemed to be “two years away.”

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A Public Health Emergency (PHE), declared in response to the spread of COVID-19, included waivers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to ease the burden on hospitals and other providers during the pandemic. As CMS loosened regulations concerning virtual care, healthcare organizations quickly adopted telehealth, which enabled providers to continue seeing their patients during lockdowns while keeping patients out of healthcare settings unless absolutely necessary, thereby mitigating their risk of becoming infected with coronavirus.

The PHE has been extended 12 times since its implementation but is finally slated to end on May 11—along with many of the waivers that we have become accustomed to, including those for telehealth.

That won’t spell the end of virtual care. There have already been some additional targeted extensions, including a two-year extension of telehealth waivers for Medicare beneficiaries. But given the accelerated adoption of telemedicine among providers and patients, it’s fair to say the genie is out of the bottle.

Some of the pandemic-era telehealth waivers will survive the end of the PHE, but not every exception will continue to stay in place. Organizations will need to once again adapt to survive and thrive as a rush of healthcare disruptors enter the field.

Asif Shah Mohammed is a partner at ECG Management Consultants and leader of the firm’s digital health practice. He joins me on this episode to discuss changing rules, new players, and why it’s time to double down on virtual health technologies. Below are a few excerpts.

Appetite for innovation.

“I think the pandemic demonstrated that there is appetite for innovation by providers, especially when the legacy regulatory barriers and restrictions are reduced or eliminated. We saw how rapidly organizations scaled their telehealth programs. They also identified novel uses for virtual care, such as virtual rounding, emergency room video, handoffs, etc. Telehealth has been around for 40–50 years, but with the pandemic, suddenly everyone saw the value of it. And now I think telehealth is here to stay. The question is, how do we make it sustainable?”

Lingering concern about overuse, misuse of telehealth.

“There has always been a consideration about [telehealth promoting] overutilization of healthcare services. As Congress has been thinking about telehealth, they’re saying, ‘how do we make sure that we’re able to provide telehealth for our Medicare beneficiaries? They’re not overusing this service, and it is being provided appropriately.’ At the same time, there are opportunities for folks to overuse this type of care. So that’s been the core impediment.”

Competing—and partnering—with disruptors.

“Several nontraditional competitors are advancing telehealth solutions, and they’re very well-funded startups. You’re seeing partnerships with health systems, health plans, and employers, as well as direct-to-consumer models. But local health systems and service providers have something these nontraditional players do not—familiarity. The personal bonds between patients and physicians cannot be easily replaced. So it is on this basis that health systems can continue to effectively compete with these nontraditional players, by expanding their telehealth capabilities and developing a cohort of community providers to render telehealth services.”

This article was originally published on the ECG Management Consulting blog and is republished here with permission.

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The US spends more on healthcare per capita than any other country on the planet. So why don’t we have superior outcomes? Why haven’t the principles of capitalism prevailed? And why do American consumers have so much trouble accessing and paying for healthcare? Dive into these and other issues on Healthcare Upside/Down with ECG principal Dr. Nick van Terheyden and guest panelists as they discuss the upsides and downsides of healthcare in the US, and how to make the system work for everyone.

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