Based on current COVID-19 trends, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning for the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19, declared under Section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, expired at the end of the day on May 11, 2023.
Here is offical statements from HHS.
Fact Sheet: End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Fact Sheet: Telehealth Flexibilities and Resources and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
But what are we hearing from our industry? We asked some thought leaders and here is what they had to say.
Even though the official PHE is ending on May 11, which will affect telehealth services, there are valuable lessons learned during the pandemic that are changing how we deliver care in the U.S. A big change during the pandemic was the need to deliver care remotely using telehealth and remote care management technology. Despite all the naysayers who said it’s impossible or patients and providers won’t make the switch, what we saw was the opposite. Patients embraced being able to get care from the safety of their homes, and clinicians became more comfortable with technology as a means to provide individualized care. And it’s here to stay. CMS leaned into remote care that goes beyond telehealth visits by introducing CPT codes for remote therapeutic monitoring (RTM). While telehealth simply replaces in-person visits, remote care enables patient care to be managed in the home, resulting in positive impacts on both patient outcomes and costs.
It’s worth clarifying that when the public health emergency (PHE) is over, virtual nursing in the acute care setting will not end. The significant developments that impact telehealth do not affect virtual nursing, partly because registered nursing services provided in a hospital context are not directly billable services. However, OCR’s announcement that they will resume enforcing HIPAA telehealth rules compliance after a 90-day grace period is a significant change to protect the privacy and dignity of patients who are in the hospital and at their most vulnerable.
The U.S. saw increased adoption of telehealth among healthcare providers and patients during the public health emergency, and we collectively benefitted from more convenient and accessible ways to provide and receive healthcare. As the PHE comes to an end, many groups are calling to make temporary policies permanent to take advantage of the flexibility, convenience, and efficiency of telehealth. A successful and sustainable telehealth model brings value whether or not there’s a temporary measure in place. Telehealth solutions that marry a digital health platform with clinicians staffed across 50 states are making it easier to quickly scale and meet the needs of providers and patients.
Concerns over prior authorization (PA) and its impact on care delivery existed long before the pandemic. Despite a call to waive the administrative process during the public health emergency (PHE), its continued use increased administrative burden during a heightened demand for care, further delaying access and resulting in avoidable denials. PA is one of the most time-consuming requirements preventing providers from spending more time with patients, and the demand for care won’t diminish just because the PHE is ending. The time for prior authorization reform and advancing interoperability has never been more critical, especially as providers and health plans alike are more determined than ever to eliminate costly, unnecessary care variations as well as relieve an overstretched workforce.
Bill Kerr, MD, CEO, Avalon Healthcare Solutions
The public health emergency may be ending, but the demand for laboratory testing continues to grow with recent advancements in genetic testing and expansion in over-the-counter testing. The pandemic increased awareness of how useful lab testing is for tracking significant diseases, but lab testing is also important for confirming diagnosis, monitoring patients’ response to treatments and informing evidence-based patient care. Analyzing lab results in real time and at scale provides a better understanding of disease trajectories and enables clinicians to deliver the right care at the right time, which will help us achieve our collective goal of value-driven care.
The pandemic permanently transformed care delivery by causing a massive explosion in the adoption of telehealth across the entire healthcare landscape. Despite the end of the public health emergency, it’s safe to assume that telehealth is no longer a “nice to have” service for patients, but rather the new table stakes. This newfound momentum has presented a myriad of benefits for patients and prompted significant changes for health systems that will continue well into the future, and it’s up to providers to embrace virtual care with patient engagement at its core to remain competitive, eliminate barriers to care access, and retain patients.