A study in the Journal of the American Informatics Association showed virtual urgent care visits at NYU Langone grew by 683% and non-urgent virtual care visits grew by a staggering 4,345% between March 2 and April 14. The coronavirus pandemic and telehealth have reshaped care delivery and opened big opportunities for telehealth to dramatically impact ongoing patient care.
“We will never go back to 50 (telehealth) visits a day. That genie’s out of the bottle,” said NYU Langone CMIO Dr. Paul Testa. At MedStar Health daily telehealth visits went from two to 4150 in just two months. This health system rolled out new technology that enabled 100,000 virtual visits between March 13 and May 1. Two thirds of patients said the pandemic has increased their willingness to try virtual care.
Obviously the need to reduce person-to-person contact during the coronavirus pandemic led to increased use of telehealth, but NYU Langone’s Dr. Testa said this could only happen because of the widespread access to broadband internet and shifts at the local state and federal level that made it easier for patients to access virtual care. Early in the pandemic President Trump authorized a dramatic expansion in the availability of telehealth services to medicare patients. Previously only seniors living in rural areas were eligible to have telehealth services covered. Dr. Testa said, “The other changes that made this possible were clearly payer reform and rapid payer accommodation. Medicare announced its coverage at noon, and we saw our first Medicare patent at 5 that day. The payers see the value proposition in what we’ve done.”
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is included in the reimbursement coverage, and continuing improvements in this technology will lead to cost efficiencies and more satisfied patients when coupled with virtual visits.Training doctors to deliver virtual care, working out reimbursement snafus, trying to integrate telehealth services into fractured electronic health record system, setup challenges for new users as well as bandwidth shortages during the pandemic’s expanded internet demand are all administrative challenges that the 76% of U.S. Hospitals utilizing telehealth are having to deal with. “Most of these challenges are the types of growing pains expected when transforming process via technology. Doing this during a crisis is always going to get messy,” said Eric Perakslis, Duke University Data Scientist.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to 80% year-over-year growth in telehealth and the telehealth market is expected to reach $10 billion in 2020 alone.