Health care providers and their patients got used to remote consultations during COVID-related periods of isolation. As it turns out, patients want to continue seeing doctors remotely when possible. Regulatory changes made to accommodate the COVID emergency and issues regarding payment by Medicare and Medicaid may affect what the future of telemedicine looks like after COVID.
Telemedicine as an Emergency Response
In the early months of the pandemic, doctor’s offices saw appointment bookings plummet. But uptake of telehealth services soared. Where telemedicine had once been used for remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions, it now was allowed physicians to meet with patients for routine primary care visits.
As restrictions about in-person meetings eased, many medical practices found that their patients preferred the convenience of telehealth services and have continued to offer a hybrid model of services, combining telemedicine with in-person visits.
Regulations and Compensation
When the medical profession reacted to the steep decline in personal appointments by providing remote health care, they needed the federal and state governments to respond by relaxing some forms of regulation. This included privacy requirements that restricted the types of devices or software that physicians could use when talking to patients. Government officials also needed to react to permit doctors who provided remote care to Medicare and Medicaid patients so they could be compensated appropriately.
It’s unclear at this point whether the government will extend these regulatory changes and continue to support physician reimbursement for telemedicine. While many private insurers cover telehealth visits, many others charge a regular co-pay for telehealth visits and are expected to continue to do so.
The rise of telehealth services revealed several benefits, not the least of which was efficiency. Often, neither patient nor doctor would need to use up personal protective equipment to participate in a telehealth visit. Remote monitoring made caring for patients with chronic conditions simpler, as real-time information on a patient’s vital signs could be shared from remote locations during a telemedicine visit.
That said, patients can also use standard diagnostic medical devices to measure and report basic vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure to their doctors while on a remote video call. Trained caregivers can use basic equipment like otoscopes to check the ears and throat and stethoscopes to report any unusual breathing or lung sounds to the physician on the call.
Of course, there are certain types of care that can only be rendered in person, such as vaccinations, treatment for injuries like broken bones, and surgeries. What the future of telemedicine looks like after COVID is still evolving. However, a hybrid model of healthcare that uses both remote technology and in-person visits to provide the best care for patients is a likely outcome.