A bi-partisan coalition of 32 US House members are asking in a May 21 letter to Congressional leadership that ongoing emergency efforts to relax telehealth regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic be continued for an additional period of time. They are asking for time to collect data and determine which of these flexibilities should remain in place permanently.
“Telehealth is proving to be an extremely successful approach in ensuring that patients are receiving mental health and addiction care during this trying and unprecedented time, and we applaud the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for expanding behavioral telehealth flexibilities, and ultimately increasing access to these essential services,” the letter states. “In particular, we are grateful that CMS is providing broader coverage of behavioral telehealth services, which has helped expand access to many individuals in rural and medically underserved areas, and allowed individuals to receive these services in their home.”
The order would be included in the next COVID-19 relief bill, the lawmakers said.
Milwaukee’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center offers telehealth services to veterans, with 90% of its providers participating in the program.
So far, only about 400 veterans have received care through this telehealth program, however with the high rate of participation among its providers, that number will grow quickly this year.
The program, like many other telehealth programs around the country, expands the reach of a clinic by offering virtual visits to people who live far away or are otherwise unable to physically go to the clinic.
Milwaukee’s WTMJ-TV did a spotlight segment on this program and interviewed a veteran who used to have to travel 30 miles for treatment, and who suffers from vertigo. He now uses his laptop to meet with his provider from the comfort and security of his own home, with great success. He appreciates not having to make the long drive and avoiding the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar environment. Watch this veteran’s story here: https://www.tmj4.com/news/local-news/new-program-offers-veterans-a-virtual-alternative-to-traditional-health-visits
The Department of Veterans Affairs provided over 2.6 million telehealth episodes in Fiscal Year 2019, making it the largest telehealth program in the country. In addition to a 235% in video visits, there was a 17% increase in overall telehealth services over the previous fiscal year, according to new data released by the VA. During this time, more than 900,000 veterans accessed the agency’s telehealth services in a clinic or at home.
FY 2019 was the first full year of the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere initiative, which enables care teams to treat veterans regardless of their location, including across state lines or outside a VA facility. The new program is particularly beneficial for veterans living in rural areas who would otherwise need to travel a considerable distance or across state lines to receive care.
Use of VA Video Connect, the agency’s video app, increased by 235% this year. More than 99,000 veterans used the app at home, eliminating a trip to the nearest VA facility. More than 200,000, or approximately two-thirds of the 294,000 VA Video Connect appointments this year were for tele-mental health visits.
Read more at Health Data Management: https://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/va-reports-235-increase-in-video-telehealth-visits-in-fy19
Consumers continue to wish for more virtual care options, creating better overall access to healthcare. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Ernst and Young, more than 50% of 2500 consumers are already using the telemedicine technology available to them through their healthcare providers. However most of these patients do not have access to all the telehealth options they are hoping for.
As consumers are more and more willing to use virtual portals for addressing healthcare needs, there is still an overall lack of accessibility to these virtual care options. In reality the next step in integrating telehealth into the healthcare sector is persuading physicians to adopt this technology into their own practices. A study conducted by Ernst and Young in 2018 surveyed 350 physicians, 64% of these physicians believe that the telemedicine technology will reduce physician and nurse burnout rates.
A physician shortage in the US has been an ongoing issue pushing physician burnout rates to increase. The rising amount of patients per physician is detrimental to the physician as well as the patient. Doctors must either work longer hours or spend less time with patients, causing quality of care to suffer.
Telehealth saves time for both the patient and doctor, and creates an easier way for physicians to manage, and care for a growing number of patients. It is no wonder that the current healthcare system is increasing its use of telehealth technology.
The consumers have spoken and they want virtual healthcare options. Now is the time for physicians to not only listen to their patients, but also use this technology to improve quality of care and their own quality of life by saving time and energy. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of implementing telehealth into your practice check out our other blog posts or Clocktree telehealth platform.